The Hive

By Charles Burns
56 pages, color
Published by Pantheon Books

Two years ago, Charles Burns began a new trilogy of graphic novels with X’ed Out, an odd book that shifted between reality and a different, cartoonish world following its protagonist Doug. It was simultaneously intriguing yet also frustrating; as good as it was, so much was still feeling nebulous and unfinished with two more installments still en route. Burns’s second installment The Hive is now just around the corner, and with it comes not only a larger feel for Burns’ new story, but also a slightly more satisfying look back at X’ed Out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Happy! #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

Grant Morrison recently announced the end dates for his two ongoing work-for-hire titles for DC Comics (Action Comics and Batman Incorporated), and while he still has a handful of company-owned projects still in the pipeline (Multiversity and Wonder Woman Year One for starters), he’s going to start concentrating more on some new creator-owned titles. The first of those is Happy!, a four-issue limited series with co-creator Darick Robertson. Reading the first issue, I have to say that this is a distinct change for Morrison. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was written by an entirely different big-name-creator.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rutabaga: Adventure Chef Chapters 1-3

By Eric Fuerstein
84 pages, black and white
Self-published

For 17 years, every autumn I’ve gone to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in the Washington DC area, and every year I’ve left with a bag full of cool comics. Over the years I’ve found myself buying more and more mini-comics and self-published books, the sort that I can’t find at my always-great local comic book store chain. One of the discoveries for me this year was Rutabaga: Adventure Chef, a collection of the first three chapters of an utterly charming web comic. And while you can read the pages of this comic online for free, I suspect once you check it out for yourself you’ll agree that this is a comic worth supporting with a copy of the print edition, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?

By Lewis Trondheim
96 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

If you like the fantasy genre and also the comics medium, hopefully you’ve been reading Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series, which is being reprinted in English by NBM Publishing. And if you’ve read everything in Trondheim and Sfar’s sometimes-silly, sometimes-grim series and are looking for something else, you’re in luck. Fantagraphics is translating a new fantasy series entirely by Trondheim, beginning with the long-titled Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? And while it’s quite different than Dungeon, I can’t help but think that those who’ve read the former need to check out this new series, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Womanthology: Space #1

Written by Bonnie Burton, Sandy King Carpenter, Alison Ross, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
Art by Jessica Hickman, Tanja Wooten, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

A little over a year ago, Renae De Liz started a Kickstarter for an all-female-comic-creators called Womanthology: Heroic. The Kickstarter was wildly successful—it got over four times its goal and topped out at over $109,000—and it got the attention of a lot of people in the industry. Now Womanthology is back with Womanthology: Space, a new series which will eventually be collected into a second Womanthology graphic novel. And so far? It’s off to a slightly unmemorable start.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stumptown Vol. 2 #1

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

Almost three years ago, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s first Stumptown mini-series debuted. Starring Dex Parios, it followed a private investigator in Portland, Oregon who was often down on her luck and even more often got in over her head. With the mini-series having numerous delays, though, Rucka and Southworth promised that they’d wait until they could guarantee the next one would be on time before it began to appear. Well, it looks like that time is now, and with Stumptown Volume 2 #1 we’re getting "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case." But with all the intervening time, is it too late for Stumptown to try and make a comeback?

Read the rest of this entry »

Drama

By Raina Telgemeier
240 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

After the wild (and deserved) success of Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical Smile, it was safe to say that hopes were high for her new graphic novel Drama. Unlike her previous books for Scholastic, it was neither a retelling of Telgemeier’s own life or someone else’s stories (her adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitter’s Club books). But in cutting loose and telling a story about middle school students in drama club, I think that Telgemeier’s pushed her way into proving to readers that she’s not a one-hit wonder.

Read the rest of this entry »

Maya Makes a Mess

By Rutu Modan
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

Maya Makes a Mess is the first children’s book I’ve seen by Actus comic collective creator Rutu Modan, but I hope it won’t be the last. It takes a familiar litany from a parent—asking a child to show some manners when eating at the table—and turns it nicely on its ear when Maya’s father’s threat, "What if you were eating dinner with the Queen?" is suddenly put to the test when Maya receives an invitation to do just that. At its core, Maya Makes a Mess is a beautiful flight of fancy from a child who imagines a theoretical situation playing out in only the way that a kid can, and it’s pitch-perfect. Every little step of Maya’s journey is well told, and it’s all in Maya’s voice, with that childlike yet wide-eyed exuberance. Parents might not be able to teach their children the manners they want through Maya Makes a Mess, but they will surely teach them fun.

Modan’s art looks great here too; she packs in a ton of detail on every page, especially when it comes to the banquet. With lots of tiny, intricate lines the pages have a lot to examine, from strands of spaghetti to petals on flowers. Half of the fun is just watching what’s going on in every page; Modan doesn’t skimp on a single page, and because of that Maya Makes a Mess is wonderfully re-readable. You’re almost guaranteed to see something new each time, and that’s a rarity in a children’s book. I was delighted to see Toon publish a children’s book from indy comic artist R. Kikuo Johnson (The Shark King) earlier this year, and it’s a joy to see them cast that net wide once more with Modan. All in all, another winner from Modan and Toon Books.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Benny and Penny in Lights Out!

By Geoffrey Hayes
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

Geoffrey Hayes’s Benny and Penny books are some of my favorites in the publishing line, so a new installment from Hayes was bound to tickle my fancy. Benny and Penny in Lights Out! does just that, as the brother-and-sister duo get ready for bed, tell each other scary stories, and sneak out a window into the dark to try and find Benny’s missing pirate hat. What’s great about Benny and Penny in Lights Out! (and the Benny and Penny books in general) is that despite the verbal sparring that the duo occasionally have, there’s a certain level of affection that’s always present between the two. Penny clearly looks up to her big brother, and Benny himself has a protective side that will surface as need be.

I also appreciated that for all of Benny’s bluster, it’s Penny who can kick up the bravery when it needs to be present; she might be the little sister but she’s not afraid to be the tough one when need be. Add in some beautiful art from Hayes, with soft gentle shading that draws you into the page, and you’re hooked. I love the big two-page spread of Penny outside at night by herself, and Hayes plays with light and shadow quite effectively for a book set in the dark hours. Aimed at first and second graders, Benny and Penny in Lights Out! is a book that parents will enjoy reading by themselves as much as they will with their children. I might be about to enter my 40s, but I’ll cheerfully keep collecting all the Benny and Penny books for my own bookshelves.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

By Frank Viva
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

I’d never heard of Frank Viva before A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse, but now that I’ve seen his art I won’t forget him. Viva’s art looks almost like pieces of construction paper meticulously cut out and glued together onto the page; big, beautiful shapes with colors that are soothing yet noticeable. (In fact, the book was constructed through Adobe Illustrator, which is only sad in that I’d love to have originals on my wall from Viva.) Viva tackles all sorts of images here, from orca and penguins to icebergs and waves. The Antarctic region comes across as a beautiful and soothing place thanks to Viva, and for that alone you’ll want to look at A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.

Fortunately the storytelling is strong here, too. Aimed at very young readers, Viva uses patterns and repetition to keep the attention of the little kids, but fortunately he also keeps it from becoming annoying to adults. Whenever Mouse offers up ideas, Viva divides the landscape-oriented pages into four spots so that parents can point to each and say the item being illustrated there; it’s an effective way to teach kids about both mundane and out-of-the-ordinary things. A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse is enchanting, and hopefully it’s not the first trip that Viva is taking Mouse, his explorer friend, or us. I’m a Viva fan now, and once you look at this book, you’ll be too.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books