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Stack Overflow: 6 Comics

I mentioned last week that I have a lot of comics to share with you, and now that I’m looking at the pile, there may be too many for me to get to in a single week! I’ve got a mix of stuff for kids and adults, a few new releases and some older titles as well.

Lumberjackula by Mat Heagerty and Sam Owen

I imagine at some point Mat or Sam came up with the portmanteau “Lumberjackula” and thought it was funny … and then decided to create a whole world around this character who’s half-lumberjack, half-vampire. The town of Hollow Tree is populated entirely by lumberjacks and vampires, coexisting peacefully (somehow? I’m not sure what these vampires eat). The lumberjacks wear plaid and jeans and even the kids have beards; the vampires have pointy ears and can turn into bats—and can be outside during the day, thanks to some special sunscreen.

Lumberjackula—Jack for short—is a bit of both, because his mom’s a lumberjack and his dad’s a vampire, and he’s about to make a big decision: which upper school to attend. Will he learn to be a lumberjack or a vampire? He’s feeling a lot of pressure from both sides of his family, and has been hiding a secret: what he really wants to do is dance, but that’s something neither lumberjacks nor vampires do. He gets a chance to attend Tip Tap Twinkle Toes Dance Academy in a neighboring town, but he’s afraid to find out how his family will respond.

The story is all about being true to yourself. Although Jack’s parents are both very supportive of Jack, there’s a string of miscommunication that leads Jack to believe that they each feel very strongly about where he’ll go to school, which then leads him to lie about his own feelings. It’s a cute story that ultimately has a happy ending, even though the premise is extremely weird.

Barb the Last Berzerker and Barb and the Ghost Blade by Dan & Jason

Dan & Jason are the team behind the Blue, Barry & Pancakes comics series that I’ve covered before, and this is another kids’ comics series. These are a bit longer than the BBP series and a little darker in tone, though there’s still quite a bit of their trademark silliness throughout as well. Barb’s parents are part of a heroic team known as the Berzerkers (most of whom appear to be named for the weapons they use), though her mom left to fight in the monster wars and never returned. When the team follows a tip to retrieve the legendary Shadow Blade, they are trapped by the evil Witch Head, and young Barb is the only one who manages to get away—but not before swiping the Shadow Blade.

Now, she’s on a quest to find help, and having a lot of adventures of her own. Despite the traditional enmity between Berzerkers and monsters, she ends up teaming up with a yeti named Porkchop (after they resolve an initial misunderstanding). The Shadow Blade gives her great power, but each she uses it, it knocks her out for a while and sometimes gives her visions.

The second book continues the story—Barb has gotten some information about tracking down the Wise Wizards for help, and she also has to face the former Berzerkers, who are under an enchantment and now work for Witch Head. In the meantime, Barb has forged alliances with other monsters as well, after discovering that maybe not everything she’s been told about them is true.

The books are pretty action-packed and keep the pace moving, jumping back and forth between the present and flashbacks. The humor is a lot like the BBP series—kind of random, with a bit of slapstick and strange non-sequiturs. I didn’t really get into this series as much myself, but my third-grader really enjoyed it. The story isn’t over—there’s definitely more to come after this.

Star Knights by Kay Davault

Tad the frog has grown up hearing stories of the legendary Star Knights, animals who took on human form when they were granted wishes by falling stars. But when he tries to play Star Knights with the other animals, they shun him because he’s one of the mud-dwellers, a minion of the Marsh Witch in the stories. When more stars fall, Tad catches one and his wish is granted—he becomes a Star Knight! He meets Stello, the Star King, and pledges to escort him back to his home in space. But Tad’s worried that somebody will figure out his secret, that he’s not really a Star Knight after all.

This story has some fun twists and turns, largely focused on the question of who are really the heroes of the story. I feel like I’ve encountered enough stories myself where the heroes turn out to be not so great, the supposed enemies aren’t actually so bad, that the plot twists weren’t that surprising to me, but it’s a story that’s enjoyable even if you can figure out what’s coming, and the artwork is really charming.

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History Comics: The Stonewall Riots by Archie Bongiovanni and A. Andrews

I’ve written a lot in the past about First Second’s Science Comics series. They also have this History Comics series, which covers a wide range of topics from the Challenger disaster to the Roanoake Colony to the National Parks, though I hadn’t gotten around to reading most of them yet. I picked up this one to read as Pride Month drew to a close—although I knew of the Stonewall riots and their significance, I had never actually read much in depth about the events.

This book uses a sort of time-travel framing story, so although it is based on historical facts, it does take some liberties with its own original characters. A group of young adults is moving Ms. Carmen into her senior living apartment when they come across an old photograph of her with her girlfriend—surprising news to Ms. Carmen’s granddaughter, Natalia. Ms. Carmen explains how scandalous her relationship was at the time and why it was kept a secret, but the others don’t entirely believe her. As she’s explaining some of the difficulties the LGBTQ community had in the 1960s, they all find themselves transported to the past to experience it for themselves—and, coincidentally, wind up at the Stonewall Inn the night the riots began.

The book shows how these three young adults—all part of the LGBTQ community themselves—see the events unfold through their own eyes, and then some of the conversations they have with other people as they process what’s happening over the next day or so. Most of them had doubted Ms. Carmen’s claims at least a little, and have trouble at first understanding how attitudes—and laws—have changed since the 1960s, and this experience helps them grasp the hardships of the time, and motivates them to take action in the present day.

While I appreciated getting a broader understanding of the Stonewall riots and the effect they had in bringing LGBTQ people more into the public eye, I felt that the present-day young adults seemed a little too naive—it wasn’t just that they didn’t know how hard things were in the past, but they also seemed blissfully unaware of any anti-queer sentiments in the present. I know for sure that the gay and trans people I know today—young and old—see the need to advocate for their rights, and although things are easier now than they were, I haven’t encountered too many people who deny that things were ever hard, either. It’s odd that those attitudes strike me as more implausible than the time travel itself (which isn’t ever really explained, it just happens), but I suppose these characters may have been written to be more sympathetic to cis straight readers, who would have the most to learn from this book.

The Holy Spirit: A Spirited Comic by John Hendrix

This book is a collection of comic strips featuring an unlikely protagonist: the Holy Spirit (yes, that one), depicted as a little blue teardrop-shaped ghost, usually in dialogue with a squirrel and a badger. They’re little philosophical wonderings, reminding me a little of the conversations that Calvin has with Hobbes in his more contemplative moments, but in this case one of the participants is an aspect of an all-knowing God. It’s funny but not mean, religious but not totally orthodox in its interpretations. As Hendrix explains in the author’s note, these comics aren’t meant to be “informational tracts,” but rather “expressions of a mind wrestling with the alternating seasons of faith and doubt that are familiar to any person of faith.”

I really enjoyed reading these—they’re thought-provoking and amusing, and while they do depict the Holy Ghost (and therefore a purported understanding of what God thinks), it’s done in a way that is humble rather than overbearing.

The Best of the Rejection Collection: Revised Second Edition edited by Matthew Diffee

This is a collection of cartoons that never made it into The New Yorker from a long list of cartoonists. Diffee is himself a New Yorker cartoonist, and after explaining some of the possible reasons a cartoon would get rejected—too crass, too political, too weird, too hard to get—he introduces each cartoonist with a little Q&A and then shows a handful of their rejections.

I didn’t always like New Yorker cartoons, and I can’t even really explain at what point they started to click for me, but now I’m a fan of the single-panel format, the strange references and sort of off-kilter brand of humor they typically contain. These cartoons are, for the most part, pretty similar, but push a little farther in one direction or the other. You may find yourself agreeing on the rejection, or you may finally see the humor in some of these cartoonists that usually don’t make you laugh.

The one thing I didn’t really care for was the Q&A sections. I do think it’s nice to have an introduction to each cartoonist, but the Frequently Asked Questions were too banal to be interesting (“Where do you get your ideas?”) and the Infrequently Asked Questions said more about Diffee than the artists (“Have you mooned or been mooned more often in your life?”). The number of people who answered “How did you get started?” with something about their parents, or responded to “If you used a pen name, what would it be?” with the name of a type of pen, just shows you that there’s an art to asking questions that illicit interesting responses.

So, if you want a collection of almost New Yorker cartoons that are just a little dirtier, more political, or weirder than what you find in the magazine, this one’s worth a read. But maybe skip those Q&A pages.


My Current Stack

I’ve got more comics in my pile, but this is all I can get to today! In the meantime, I’ve finished Upgrade by Blake Crouch and will try to write about that one next week. I’ve just started reading This Place That Place by Nandita Danesh, a novel about an occupied nation, and a relationship between one of the occupiers and one of the occupied. It feels like a really relevant story right now, with the way that the characters are dealing with big political differences.

Disclosure: I received review copies of the books in this column. Affiliate links to Bookshop.org help support my writing and independent bookstores!

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This post was last modified on July 4, 2022 2:02 am

Jonathan H. Liu

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit. I can be reached at jonathan at geekdad dot com.

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