Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Springtime reading: April Graphic Novels

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, by Box Brown, (Apr. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250154088

Ages 14+

Award-winning graphic novelist Box Brown is back with the real story of how cannabis – weed, marijuana, reefer – went from being a plant used for spiritual purposes to being labeled a gateway drug that caused “reefer madness”. How did it happen, you say? Racism. Politics. Propaganda.  Scare tactics. The usual song and dance. Box Brown has done his research and, combined with his minimalist artwork, presents a tale that will have you seeing the politics of marijuana (the origin of that name is in here, too, and it’s a doozy) in an entirely new light.

The War on Drugs started long before Nancy Reagan went on Diff’rent Strokes and told kids to “just say no”, and the fallout has targeted minorities – primarily young black men – and left thousands imprisoned for minor infractions. Studies have purposely included falsified data and allowed Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to perpetuate his war against narcotics by weaponizing moral outrage and using propaganda to get the plant a schedule 1 classification, putting it on par with heroin.

Ignatz Award winner Box Brown has a gift for nonfiction. While he’s primarily done biographical graphic novels thus far, including Andre the Giant, Andy Kaufman, and the rise of the video game Tetris, Cannabis is a thoroughly researched, fully realized, history of marijuana, from its earliest recorded uses through the present day. It’s a good add for your young adult/new adult collections and could be a good selection for a book group, especially with its increasing legality and medicinal usage.

Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths, by Graham Annable, (Apr. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725720

Ages 6-10

It’s the return of my favorite sloth buddies! Peter and Ernesto are back, and they’ve got a new adventure when a hurricane blows their beloved tree away! Peter, Ernesto, and the rest of their sloth friends must set out to find a new tree. A great tree. A tree just like the one they had, preferably. As they journey through the jungle, there are new dangers to brave: angry ants, slithering snakes, running pigs, and a very hungry jaguar! Ernesto is up to the challenge, but poor Peter… well, Peter’s going to need his best friend next to him as they lead their friends to a new tree. And maybe, a new friend or two along the way.

I love this new series! The two friends are like the Bert and Ernie of sloth civilization, with idealistic, upbeat Ernesto and cautious, nervous Peter acting as counterbalances to each other. The new animals the group meets as they venture through the jungle are hilarious, and the twist near the end will have your readers cheering. It’s emotional to see the sloths survey the damage to their tree, and it adds a depth to Peter’s and Ernesto’s characters as they take on the responsibility of shepherding their group to a new home. It’s just as emotional to see them find a new tree and the final resolution will just make you feel good. Peter and Ernesto is feel-good reading, and who doesn’t need more of that?

I can’t wait to see where life takes them next. Add this to your graphic novels collections and talk them up! Make a Best Friends display and make sure to include Frog & Toad, Elephant and Piggie, Narwhal & Jelly, and Duck and Porcupine.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Is This Guy for Real? Brian Brown introduces a new generation to Andy Kaufman

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626723160

Recommended for readers 14+

Box Brown, the award-winning creator of Andre the Giant: His Life and Legend and Tetris: The Games People Play returns to introduce readers to one of the most controversial comedians of the ’70s and early ’80s, Andy Kaufman. The biography covers Andy’s younger years; how his persona was largely formed by television, particularly Elvis, professional wrestling and cartoons, all of which would figure into his act years later. Much of Is This Guy for Real? details his “feud” with wrestler Jerry the King Lawler; one of the greatest “are they or aren’t they?” rivalries of all time. The book also covers his death at age 35 from lung cancer, and the fact that many people – including his co-stars on the television show Taxi – swore it was a hoax.

I grew up watching Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravis on Taxi, and his stand-up performances on Saturday Night Live. I can’t hear the Mighty Mouse theme song without seeing him lip sync and gesture along. I remember watching he and Jerry Lawler go at each other, and never being quite sure whether or not it was real (you’ll find the answer in the book). Is This Guy for Real is an eye-opening look at an artist who was ahead of his time – warts and all – and gone too quickly. I’m hoping this profile introduces new audiences to Andy Kaufman and his stand-up; I know I’ll talk it up to our teens once I get our library’s copy.

Posted in gaming, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Box Brown gives us the real story of Tetris, the most addictive game EVER

tetris_1Tetris: The Games People Play, by Box Brown (October 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626723153

Recommended for ages 12+

If you spent the better part of the early ’90s glued to your keyboard/gaming console/handheld, immersed in the video game Tetris, you’re not alone. I have logged many hours in front of my NES, rotating those little blocks to achieve the perfect fit. Box Brown’s graphic novel tells the story behind Tetris: the men who created it, and the game developers that almost went to war over bringing it to the masses.

We meet Alexey Pajitnov and his colleague, Vlad Pokhilko, computer scientists at the Moscow Academy of Science. In 1984, Alexey created Tetris in his spare time; it began life as freeware, being passed from friend to friend, coworker to coworker. This game was a phenomenon waiting to happen: it was addicting from the start; people were mesmerized. One story in the book illustrates a manager providing copies to his workplace colleagues, only to take the discs back and destroy them when office productivity declined.

We see the struggle between game developers and the tangled weave of rights for the game: Nintendo, Atari, and Sega all wanted it, and rights 0wnership was downright sketchy, with miscommunication and under the table deals leading to lawsuits. The story reads like an international thriller in parts, with all the trips to Moscow, international dealings, and theft and intrigue.

The story unfolds in two-color art, with game screen renderings and simple character drawings keeping readers focused on the story and the complexity of the game itself. In the story of Tetris, Box Brown also gives us the story of gaming: the pursuit of fun, and the role of gaming in art, culture, commerce, and intellect. From Lascaux cave paintings, which depict games, to artifacts of gaming pieces rendered in bone, to Senet, an Ancient Egyptian board game, to dice games, and finally, to smartphone gaming (where Tetris still lives on), the pursuit of fun, the joy of gaming, is part of human history.

This will go over well with gamers and history fans, graphic novel fans and anyone interested in business. There’s some good advice for businesses in the story of Tetris, especially for anyone interested in international licenses. Box Brown’s graphic novel is multilayered and well-rounded, with an abundance of information presented in an interesting and easy to digest format.

Box Brown is a New York Times–bestselling author. He wrote the best-selling graphic biography, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. Take a look at some more of Tetris here, and head over to Box Brown’s author webpage and see more of his illustration work.

tetris_2 tetris_3 tetris_4

 

And now, you can’t get the Tetris music out of your head, either. You’re welcome.