Cross Game Vol. 6

By Mitsuru Adachi
376 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

With the wealth of manga being published in North America right now, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. Were I forced to narrow it down to a top ten or even top five current series, though, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cross Game would be on the list. Mitsuru Adachi’s series has done the seemingly impossible right from the beginning—create a series about baseball interesting—and with this new volume, he’s taken it a step further. He’s taken one of the most time-honored manga romantic clichés, the new rival introduced around the two-thirds mark, and made the situation engrossing.

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Adventure Time with Finn and Jake #1

Written by Ryan North and Aaron Renier
Art by Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, and Aaron Renier
24 pages, color
Published by Boom! Studios

I’ve never actually seen an episode of Adventure Time with Jake and Finn, although I’ve always heard that the show is amazingly fun and silly and generally awesome. This perhaps makes me not the target audience for an Adventure Time with Jake and Finn comic, but with folks like Ryan North and Aaron Renier working on the title, I figured it was worth a gander. (Doubly so because all the new printings of this first issue keep selling out at the distributor level.) Turns out? I’m now dying to watch the show.

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Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking

By Philippe Coudray
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

One of the latest publications from Toon Books is Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, aimed at first and second graders. While I’ve always said that there’s a lot to love from the Toon Books line for older readers, it’s Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking where I feel like we’ve got a book that anyone from the age of 5 to 105 will enjoy. Philippe Coudray writes and draws a series of one-page gage strips starring Benjamin Bear and his friends, in a series of events that goes from a trip to the grocery store, to a visit from the man in the moon. There’s a wonderful ridiculousness about each story though, as Coudray goes for a goofiness that can’t help but make you laugh.

Coudray’s art is simple but effective; the pages have an easy to follow structure, and the art uses a handful of lines to make Benjamin and company look iconic and expressive. Coudray’s jokes sometimes rely on motion, too (like an inventive way to get a rabbit from one cliff to another that’s too far for it to jump), and I feel like he’s able to get those ideas across to his readers of all ages with ease.

Every now and then, Coudray’s punch lines aren’t so much humorous as they are sweet; a show of friendship, be it getting an apple off a tree or staying warm at night. I think that’s what ultimately helps Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking work so well; it’s not just fall-over laughing humor, but there’s a softer side that appears from time to time. It shifts the book from strictly humor to a well-rounded book. Go out and buy it for that little kid in your life… but don’t blame me if you open it up to take a look and end up reading the entire thing. It’s just great.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Chick and Chickie Play All Day!

By Claude Ponti
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Claude Ponti’s Chick and Chickie Play All Day! is a comic aimed for beginning readers, so like most children’s books for that earliest age, it’s a simple story. What impressed me almost off the bat, though, was how well Ponti uses the ideas behind sequential art storytelling in a way that will subtly teach those littlest of readers how to read comics. Presented in a landscape format, Ponti sometimes uses the two-page spread as a single panel, other times as two panels. In doing so, he’s showing his readers the progression of time, either through a panel border or through a long stretch of space. As they walk across the spreads, you get the sensation of scenes taking longer than a single moment; it’s impressive when you realize that he’s using these storytelling techniques for young readers who will almost certainly grab what he’s doing and take it with them.

The story itself in Chick and Chickie Play All Day! is cute, too; it’s about a pair of chicks who first make masks and scare one another, and then play with a massive, ambulatory letter A. The second half feels like a good way to introduce those little readers into the idea of there being more than one "A" sound, and to also play with the idea of inflection creating meaning. Add in some charming illustrations, and this is a winner for those new readers in your household. Plus, if that’s not enough, you can also start prepping them into the world of comics. Everyone wins.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Zig and Wikki in The Cow

Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Art by Trade Loeffler
40 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Two years ago Toon Books published Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework, an educational comic book about two aliens exploring Earth. Imagine my surprise to see that there’s now a sequel, Zig and Wikki in The Cow, which is just as charming as the first offering. Zig and Wikki in The Cow is a direct sequel to the first book, although readers who haven’t read the earlier graphic novel will still be just fine. Having left Earth with a fly as a pet, Zig and Wikki get worried about the fly’s health and come back to try and make it better. In the process, the pair learn about ecosystems and how each piece of the system has an important duty. At the same time, Nadja Spiegelman mixes in facts about different creatures and organisms, some humor, and a good dose of friendship. It’s great because each reader will get something a little different from the book; some will focus on Wikki feeling like Zig isn’t being his close friend, while others will no doubt me more interested in the idea of the characters getting deliberately eaten by a cow. Since Zig and Wikki in The Cow is aimed at Toon Books’ oldest readers (second and third grade), Spiegelman has to give a slightly more robust plot than some other books in the line, but it works well.

Trade Loeffler’s art is fun as always; Wikki holding up grass so that a cow will eat him is funny, and Zig’s cyclops eye with tentacle arms looks charming rather than creepy. Loeffler once more has his work cut out for him thanks to getting to draw everything from a cow stomach to dung beetles, but he handles it all with equal aplomb, even when drawing an entire herd of cows where it’s just been pointed out that no two have the same pattern. Zig and Wikki in The Cow is another good book from Toon Books; this is a comic that both kids and parents will appreciate. If there are more Zig and Wikki books down the line, I’ll definitely be buying them for the younger kids in my life.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today?

By Agnès Rosenstiehl
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Agnès Rosenstiehl’s Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today? is a short and sweet book for first-time readers, but one that is surprisingly charming. Rosenstiehl tells a series of eight-panel adventures about her title character Lilly, as she decides each day of the week what her new profession will be. As she exclaims on the cover, "I can be anything!" that’s exactly what Rosenstiehl is telling her readers, shifting from cook or city planner to acrobat or vampire. It’s a strong message, but one that’s still disguised in fun. Rosenstiehl’s voice for Lilly is wonderfully accurate for a little kid; you can "hear" her as she plays by herself, coming up with a method to best act out her new job.

The art is awfully cute, too; Lilly as acrobat is a big jumble of limbs as she tries to push herself through gymnastics routine, and the stern look she gives her doll and teddy bear for not singing along to Lilly’s xylophone symphony is bretty darn funny. (Even better is how on the previous panel, the pair of toys wince she she hits a particularly loud note.) Rosenstiehl’s watercolors give the book an overall lush look, and I can’t think of a parent who wouldn’t be delighted with being given a copy of Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today?. Like so many of Toon Books’ publications, this is a good way to start teaching little kids how to read comics, and to have fun at the same time.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti

By Rick Geary
80 pages, black and white
Published by NBM

There’s no mistaking Rick Geary’s comics from anyone else’s. Not only does he have a distinct art style, but his work on his series A Treasury of Victorian Murder and now A Treasury of XXth Century Murder tackles non-fiction material that few other cartoonists would brave, let alone do so with such skill. Last year’s The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti details a robbery/murder from the 1920s that sent two Italian immigrants to death row… but in learning about the holes in the case, it’s quite easy to imagine a version of this story taking place in the present day.

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On Vacation

Palm Tree

New reviews return February 22nd!

Thief of Thieves #1

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

With several wildly successful ongoing series currently being published (The Walking Dead, Invincible, Super Dinosaur), the debut of a new series helmed by Robert Kirkman is bound to grab some attention. Thief of Thieves is using a writing team style that’s normally seen in television rather than comics; four different writers will be co-writing the series with Kirkman, with Nick Spencer being the first out of the gate. And so far, I’m liking what I see.

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Rainy Day Recess: The Complete Steven’s Comics

By David Kelly
120 pages, black and white
Published by Northwest Press

It was in the ’90s when I first encountered David Kelly’s Steven’s Comics. The Xeric Foundation had given Kelly a grant to publish a collection of some of his comic strips, and I fell in love with Kelly’s stories of a young gay boy growing up in the ’70s and struggling with the world around him. This past year, Northwest Press published a compilation of all of the Steven’s Comics strips into a single book, and going back and re-reading them made me realize two things. First, Kelly was way ahead of his time. And second, these strips are just as good now as they were then.

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