If I’m running a bit behind on this week’s column, it’s all Mary Robinette Kowal’s fault, because I stayed up too many nights finishing The Relentless Moon, the third book in the Lady Astronaut series… but more about that next time, because today’s column is another stack of comics!
When I read the original Bunnicula novel in elementary school (most likely something I acquired from a Scholastic Book Fair), I had no idea that it had already been around for several years. In fact, the series is nearly as old as I am, and still going strong at 43 years! I recently got to introduce it to my own 3rd grader, in the form of a graphic novel. James Howe (who wrote the original along with Deborah Howe) collaborated with Andrew Donkin and Stephen Gilpin to adapt the story to the new format. It’s been a long time since I read the novel itself, but the graphic novel brought back memories and sticks to the original story pretty closely.
In case you are new to Bunnicula, here’s the gist: the Monroe family brings home a little bunny one dark and stormy night, and its unusual behavior and appearance raises the suspicions of Chester the cat, who is convinced the rabbit is some sort of vampire. Harold the dog (who narrates the story) has his doubts, though, and refuses to participate in Chester’s increasingly desperate attempts to get at the truth. A lot of the humor has to do with the fact that it’s pretty obvious that Chester is right but nobody believes him.
It’s a fun introduction to the Bunnicula series, and my daughter has now started checking out the novels from her school library (there are 7 books total) to see where else the story takes her.
Mango and Brash, the alligator secret agents, are back for another pun-filled adventure, the sixth in the series. This time they’re infiltrating the world of modern art, as a collection of paintings has vanished on the way to the art museum. Mango goes undercover as a snooty artist, and the pair try to sort of the real culprit from a long list of suspects with motives. (Including Panksy, a prank artist.) There’s an actual mystery to figure out, but the book is also full of the visual gags and self-aware humor I’ve come to expect in the InvestiGators series, and my daughter and I both enjoyed reading this one.
It’s summer, and Camp Jay Bird is filled with various animal campers ready to earn their certification badges. Frank the bear really doesn’t want to be there, and would rather be at home reading and drawing comics. But he makes a new friend on the bus, Ricky the raccoon, whose enthusiasm (and shared love of comics) overlooks the fact that Frank is the only big animal in the camp. The camp was established at the site of a long-vanished settlement, with clues pointing to a giant jay that flew down and spoke to them … but we don’t know what it said. Ricky and Frank end up discovering a cave that may hold some answers, but sneaking out to investigate may be trickier than they expected!
The book mostly follows Frank’s point of view, but we occasionally get sidebars from other animals breaking the fourth wall and introducing themselves. We see that each of the campers has their own reasons for being at the camp, often due to outside pressures, and you get the sense that maybe this is the sort of place parents send their kids when they haven’t been living up to certain expectations. There’s a bit of bullying involved, some unexplained spookiness, and a heck of a cliffhanger ending that will leave you wondering when the next book comes out.
Puck, Elvis, and Lupin are back, reporting on the various goings-on in the human apartment from their feline perspectives. In this volume, the humans welcome a new baby, the cats hatch a plan to defeat the vacuum cleaner, and a package arrives that includes packing peanuts. As always, it’s very fun to see the world through cat-colored lenses to see what they find important and newsworthy in the world.
This hardcover has a format that’s somewhere between a comic book and a picture book: at 140 pages, it’s much longer than a picture book, but it’s larger (and has more of a square aspect ratio) than a lot of trade paperback comics. That really helps to showcase the gorgeous artwork in this mostly wordless story. A little girl goes to visit her Lao Lao (grandmother), who lives near the beach and has a house full of flamingo decor. She finds a pink feather on a desk and asks her Lao Lao to tell her the story behind it.
What follows is a beautiful tale about a girl who finds an abandoned egg on the beach, and ends up raising a flamingo who becomes a constant companion, until it is finally old enough to fly away. The book alternates between the present—the girl and grandmother sharing time together on various adventures—and the story about the flamingo. I loved the way that the story of the present is drawn in more muted colors, mostly shades of grey and touches of pink, while the story about the flamingo is in bright, vivid colors.
Both storylines are touching, with the excitement of a little girl for a newfound friend, and the tenderness of a girl and her grandmother building a bond over stories and walks along the beach.
Jonathan Hill is the illustrator for Americus, which I read over a decade ago, and Odessa is his first comic that he also wrote himself. I’d missed it when it was first published, but picked up a copy at the bookstore recently. The story takes place in a future where a huge earthquake destroyed much of the western United States, and is still referred to as the “End of the World” by the people who managed to survive. Virginia Crane, age 17, gets a birthday package from her mother, who left the family years ago and has been presumed dead, and she decides to go looking for her. Her two younger brothers, Wes and Harry, sneak out to follow her, and they make their way through the dangerous territories of what was once California.
It’s a post-apocalyptic story, with warring gangs, a bartering economy, and a changed landscape. The kids are hoping to make it to San Francisco, their mom’s last known location, and perhaps track down their Uncle Harry. It’s tough to know who to trust, and they get caught up in a lot more trouble than they were prepared for.
Odessa is just the leg of the journey, and it ends with a “To Be Continued” as the kids continue their search. Unfortunately, this summer Oni Press has undergone a lot of upheavals in the editorial staff, so it’s unclear whether the story will still have a home there. I do hope Hill is able to find somebody who’s interested in picking it up, though, because I’d definitely be interested to read more.
Here’s another comic book with a connection to the past: in 2010, Jason Shiga published Meanwhile, a choose-your-path comic book with a brilliant system of tabs and branching paths, and a story about time travel and entropy. Leviathan is his latest book, and it uses a choose-your-path system that is a little bit easier to navigate (and, I bet, for publishers to print): while the comic itself still uses panels connected by “pipes” that may or may not follow the standard left-to-right layout, your choices will lead you to numbered bubbles, which correspond to a page number in the book.
In this story, you live in a small coastal town in the shadow of a giant sea creature known as the Leviathan. Your goal is to defeat the Leviathan, perhaps with the help of an old wizard who supposedly has a secret. But first you’ll have to track him down, and see if you can convince him to help.
The comic does feel a bit like playing a videogame: the various paths will take into account things that you’ve managed to accomplish, items you’ve acquired. There’s even a mechanic for tracking day and night, because some locations are only accessible at certain times, and you’ll find almost duplicate maps representing the two times. There are some tricky puzzles to figure out before you can reach the proper ending to “win” the story. If you like choose-your-own-adventure books, I highly recommend giving this one a try. I’m hoping that the fact that this is called “Book One” means that there will be more Adventuregame Comics on the way!
Robin Brooks just highlighted Revenge of the Librarians last week, but I just wanted to add my two cents’ worth and say it’s a delightful collection of book-related strips. I always enjoy Gauld’s comics, and he has a particular knack for gags that appeal to book-lovers. If you’re a reader, a writer, an editor, or a librarian, chances are you’ll find a lot in this volume to laugh at. This collection is particularly lovely, featuring a hard cover with gold foil in the illustration, and a pocket with a library check-out card in the front cover.
Giantess is sort of a fairy tale: a farmer discovers an enormous baby in the woods and brings it home. He and his wife and six sons raise Celeste as their own child, the little sister who towers over them all. As the brothers get older and leave to find their way in the world, Celeste is told that she must remain at home on the farm, because the parents fear what will happen if she encounters people in the cities and villages. But Celeste is determined to discover what else is out there—in particular, are there others like her? Where did she come from?
The story is set in a medieval fantasy world and feels like a fable: the names of characters are often just Latin-ish names for their roles (for instance, the brothers’ names are essentially One to Six). Celeste has a series of adventures, from a fraudster who attempts to make a profit by turning her into a sideshow, to joining a traveling troupe of performers, to indulging her love of books in the library of a knight who has fallen in love with her. Most of her stories involve expectations of how girls and women should behave, and the juxtaposition of these demands with Celeste’s size often show how absurd they are.
The story is beautifully illustrated, too, with a style that fits the fairy tale setting. The book was originally funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, and can also be pre-ordered through Backerkit for an estimated October delivery date.
Phenomena Book One: The Golden City of Eyes written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by André Lima Araújo
Phenomena takes place in a future version of our world, one in which the Golden City of Eyes appeared … and everything changed. The skies are filled with giant flying whales, city skylines now include strange organic structures alongside recognizable buildings, and the types of people who populate the world come in all shapes and sizes now. Basically, it’s still Earth, but anything is possible.
Boldon is a young boy, traveling on his own from what used to be Toronto and headed for the Golden City of Eyes—he’s questing, and is just eager to experience a bit of everything. He winds up in the company of Spike, a “cyper” fighter who doesn’t really like him, in order to track down Matilde, a young woman who has stolen Spike’s dagger. The three of them get tangled up because Spike isn’t the only one trying to catch Matilde, and it turns out the dagger has some big secrets of its own.
It’s a wild ride: weird technology, bizarre creatures, and a world that gradually reveals itself as the story unfolds. You don’t get a lot of explanations or info dumps—Bendis just lets the story take off and lets you figure things out as you go. The black-and-white illustrations by Araújo are filled with fascinating details. This adventure is just the first book, with more to come, and I’m definitely invested in it now.
My Current Stack
As I mentioned earlier, I just finished The Relentless Moon last week. I also managed to find Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, the sixth book in the Murderbot Diaries (it had been sold out at the local bookstore for a while), so I devoured that one in a day or two. I’ve just started Becky Chamber’s latest Monk and Robot tale, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, and I imagine I’ll finish that novella very soon as well. What’s next on my list? Not sure yet, but stay tuned!
Disclosure: Except where noted, I received physical or digital review copies of the books in this column. Affiliate links to Bookshop.org help support independent booksellers and my writing!