Over the past few months, I’ve read a lot of really fantastic comic books, and many of them haven’t fit into any of my particular themes for Stack Overflow (or I thought they’d fit in a theme but I hadn’t read as many books on the topic yet). Today, I’m starting in on that pile, because I’m tired of waiting. Here are some recent favorites!
When I first read Queen of the Sea earlier this year, it was an advance reader copy, so it only had a couple of pages in color as a sample and the rest was in black and white—but it was still deeply engaging. The finished version, in full color throughout, is even more stunning. The story was “inspired by the early years of Queen Elizabeth the First” but honestly I don’t know how closely it aligns with history. (At least as far as I was able to tell from some cursory research, the storyline diverges from Elizabeth’s story.)
Margaret is a young girl who lives on a remote island, where she is raised by the nuns in the Elysian convent. There’s a ship that comes bearing supplies only about twice a year, so the sisters and Margaret live fairly isolated lives. But then some unexpected visitors arrive: first, William, the only other child she’s gotten to meet, who becomes a dear friend. Later, Eleanor, the former queen of Albion, is banished to the island when she is overthrown by her half sister. But although she is in exile, she still behaves like a queen and expects royal treatment. Woven throughout this is the mystery of Margaret herself: why was she brought to the island as an infant? Will she ever be allowed to leave?
The story is fascinating and exciting, but also makes space to show what life is usually like on the island: idyllic and peaceful, though also filled with labor. I love the way that Meconis switches to a different style when describing historical events or tales, too. I highly recommend this one—the political maneuverings may not be quite as easy for younger readers to follow, but probably middle school and up would be a good fit.
This book is nearly wordless, aside from dates and locations given at the bottom of the page throughout. It follows the life of Rodney (whose name I only know from the back cover) as he is born, grows up, and eventually dies. The story is told in pairs of images: on the left we see Rodney, looking through a window, through binoculars, through a gap between books on a bookshelf; on the right we see what he sees, a neighborhood scene, a lake, a young woman studying. The book gives the impression of a series of snapshots that build up into a picture of his whole life: he stares up at the stars, watches the moon landing, and eventually becomes an astronaut himself. Through his eyes, we witness various significant moments in history (particularly the space program), as well as Rodney’s own ups and downs: marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, taking care of his own aging father. It’s a beautiful looking book, done with a limited color palette and a simple illustration style.
Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle changed the course of science, even though Darwin was invited on the voyage mostly to keep the captain company. This comic book takes the reader on the journey with Darwin, showing the discoveries that influenced his theories, as well as interactions that affected his beliefs about human nature and slavery. The story is framed as a flashback: Darwin is seen as an older man, at home with his family and writing On the Origin of the Species, when he begins telling a story about his travels on the Beagle. After the story of the journey is finished, we return to the older Darwin as he wraps up his tale and receives an intriguing letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently came to similar conclusions as Darwin.
The book conveys Darwin’s excitement and enthusiasm for knowledge as he travels to far-flung locations. I think it’s easy to think of Darwin as the bald, bushy-bearded man, so I forget that he was so young when he began the voyage. I also didn’t know the story of the three Fuegians that were aboard the Beagle—Captain FitzRoy had taken four hostages after a boat was stolen, with plans to “save them from their savagery and convert them to the true faith.” When Darwin meets the three of them (one had died before reaching England), they had been transformed into “real English gentlefolk,” dressing in western attire, speaking English, attending the worship services aboard the ship. However, the second part of the plan—to take them back to Patagonia and use them to witness to their people—does not go as planned. Darwin’s interactions with them also had an impact on his views of slavery, though he still believed European civilization to be superior.
All in all, it’s a fascinating story, and I like the way that it provides some background and insight into Darwin’s theories. The illustrations are well done, and help take you on the journey. There are some scenes of war and cruelty, so I wouldn’t recommend it for very young readers without previewing, but overall it’s a story that could be appreciated by a wide range of readers.
The third volume in the 5 Worlds series takes Oona and her friends to Moon Yatta, a former colony that has become a technological superpower. Jax Amboy is back with the team, but he’s had some life-changing experiences along the way, and is perhaps more alive than ever. His old starball team has pulled him back in, though it turns out there’s some corruption in the league’s leadership. To light the beacon on Moon Yatta, Oona must make her way through a huge maze, filled with dead ends and deadly enemies. Fortunately, they encounter some rebels who teach her some even more tricks with her sand magic. I’m really enjoying this series as well. It’s an all-ages series that is entertaining and exciting for kids, but also touches on themes like political power, race, and trust.
This one isn’t exactly a comic book, but it’s words with pictures, so I think it’s pretty close. Bruce Worden illustrates various sets of homophones—words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings—with simple, icon-like pictures. There are word pairs that nobody ever gets confused (“ewes” and “use”) and word pairs that are frequently misused (“lightening” and “lightning”). My daughters and I read through the entire book together in one sitting, enjoying the clever wordplay. I particularly liked it when Worden was able to make similar-looking illustrations for a pair of homophones, with just subtle changes to reflect the differences in meanings. Whether you enjoy wordplay and puns, or if you just have a hard time remembering the difference between “affect” and “effect,” this book is for you!
This book starts off like an end-of-summer adventure written by Ray Bradbury, with a pack of boys riding their bikes off into the night to fulfill a pact they’ve made. At the Autumnal Equinox Festival, the town releases paper lanterns into the river, and the legend is that they are carried away and up into the sky, where they join the Milky Way. This time, these boys are going to follow the lanterns all the way to the end, with a pact: “No one turns for home. No one looks back.”
That’s easier said than done, though, and one by one the kids start dropping out. Ben finds himself stuck with Nathaniel, the kid who doesn’t really fit in, but the only one who’s willing to stick to the pact. And then things get weird. They meet a talking bear, who has his own stories about what happens on the equinox. They get hopelessly lost. They meet other strange beings.
It’s a magical, mystical journey, and I devoured it all in one gulp. I love the way the color palette changes from one scene to the next, sometimes mostly blues, sometimes mostly reds, sometimes almost black and white with just a splash of color. Ben, who was initially embarrassed to be friends with Nathaniel (and doesn’t always listen to him), eventually realizes begins to recognize Nathaniel’s quirkiness as a strength. I kind of expected that, of course, but I didn’t expect how it would all play out. If you love fanciful adventures, definitely give this one a read.
We Are Here Forever was originally a webcomic, but this book is apparently a standalone: you don’t have to be familiar with the webcomic to read it, and if you’ve read the webcomic then there are some new stories here. The basic premise is that humans aren’t around on Earth anymore, and instead a strange purple species called the Puramus live here instead, scavenging in our abandoned cities for boxes and skateboards and pillows.
The book is divided up into several chapters, and there are large (sometimes indeterminate) leaps in time between sections, so you see the Puramus civilization evolve over time as well. They’re strange creatures who have their own needs and hangups—sometimes very human, and sometimes completely alien. Mostly, they’re just strange and funny to read about, so if you like something just a bit absurd, take a trip into one possible future and visit the Puramus!
As I’ve mentioned before, I came to Saga late—late enough that the first hardcover collection had come out, so I decided to go that route. (I don’t usually buy monthly issues, but will often read series in trade paperbacks.) While I enjoyed the way that the oversized format showed off Fiona Staples’ artwork, and that I could binge a huge chunk of the story at a time, it has also meant very long waits in between books. I picked up a copy of Book 3 and finally got around to taking off the shrink wrap today … and then read the whole thing in one sitting, including the extra stuff at the back.
If you’re not familiar with Saga already, it’s a remarkable, definitely-for-adults-only story about a galaxy at war, and two people from opposite sides of the battle who fall in love. But while that may sound like yet another Romeo and Juliet tale, this one stands out because the story opens with the birth of their daughter, and a lot of the tale centers around the characters learning to be parents (while also on the run from basically the entire universe). There’s a huge cast of totally different characters, and a lot of them end up being part of this weird, mismatched family. There also happens to be a lot of sex and violence, which is why it’s decidedly not for kids.
It’s hard to talk about the themes of the most recent volume without giving away plot points, but I appreciated the way that Vaughan is able to incorporate a lot of the fears and struggles of being a parent into what feels like a big-budget sci-fi epic. Fair warning: he’s also not afraid to kill off characters that you’ve spent a long time getting to know, so don’t get too attached. Or do—because that may be one of the lessons you learn, that every relationship eventually comes to an end one way or another, so cherish the time you have. At any rate, Saga is definitely one of my favorite ongoing series. It’ll be a long wait for the next volume, so I’ll probably give it a re-read from the beginning while I wait.
My Current Stack
I finally picked up So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo and started that this past week. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but it’s been really illuminating to have things explained in pretty basic terms, like how to tell if something is about race, and why it’s important to talk about race. So far I’m finding myself in agreement with Oluo, but I won’t be surprised if later chapters start making me uncomfortable. I’m hoping the book will give me more tools to think about and talk about race, and work against racism even in myself.
For my trip to Gen Con (where I figured I would probably not get much reading done), I picked up a copy of One Hundred, Ten, and One by O. Westin. O. Westin runs the Micro SF/F stories Twitter account and posts very brief (like, a single tweet) stories. I always enjoy seeing those come across my feed, and I decided that the book would make for a good, quick read while I’m out and about at Gen Con. The book’s title refers to the contents: 100 microfictions, 10 drabbles (stories of exactly 100 words), and 1 short story.
Disclosure: Except for Saga and the books in the “current stack” section, I received review copies of the titles mentioned in this column. Links go to WorldCat.org so you can search your local library for them.