Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse

Written by Nate Cosby
Art by Chris Eliopoulos
Additional stories by Roger Langridge, Brian Clevenger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, and Mike Maihack
96 pages, color
Published by Archaia

There are books that sneak up on you, and I’d put Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse in that category. On its surface it looks like a cute kid’s book, with a 10-year old boy dressed up like a cowboy holding what looks like a toy gun. I challenge you to read this book, though, and not find yourself utterly captivated. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos have created a graphic novel that slowly but surely pulls you in, turning what at first appears to be a one-note joke into a deeply-affecting story about the bonds of family.

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Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot

By Ben Caldwell
208 pages, color
Published by Archaia

Sometimes we do get a second chance. Take, for example, Ben Caldwell’s The Dare Detectives: The Snow-Pea Plot. My only previous exposure to Caldwell was his Wonder Woman strip in Wednesday Comics, which never quite clicked for me. And somehow, I’d entirely missed the original two-part publication of The Dare Detectives by Dark Horse quite a few years ago. But inevitably, what’s old is new again, and with Archaia collecting both installments into an attractive hardcover, this seemed to be as good a chance to check out Caldwell’s comics. What I found was an interesting mix of comics and animation sensibilities.

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Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix

Written by Patrick Marty
Art by Chongrui Nie
160 pages, black and white
Published by Archaia

While I’d never read any of the historical Judge Bao stories before, while in high school we did read some other retellings of classic Chinese "judge" stories. In most of them, a traveling Judge would enter a town, discover a great wrong, and together with his assistants find the corruption inherent in the town’s government and right all the wrongs. That’s what we have here with Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix, the first in a series of Judge Bao graphic novels originally published in France that take a classic Chinese character and create graphic novels around him. And all in all, it’s something not quite like anything else in the North American comics market right now.

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Genetiks™ Vol. 1

Story and layouts by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio
104 pages, color
Published by Archaia

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a graphic novel written by Richard Marazano—I think the only other one of his comics to be translated into English was Dusk back in 2000—and I’d not heard of Jean-Michel Ponzio at all. Genetiks™ Vol. 1 was an impulse read, the sort of book that literally caught my eye thanks to its dynamic cover layout. What I found was a graphic novel with some slight rough edges, but overall something that was worth my time.

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Tale of Sand

Original screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Adaptation and art by Ramon K. Perez
Additional inks by Terry Pallot, Andy Belanger, Nick Craine, Walden Wong, and Cameron Stewart
144 pages, color
Published by Archaia

Archaia’s been publishing some comics based off of some of the smaller Jim Henson properties in recent years; books like The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock come to mind. But perhaps the most interesting one to date isn’t a prequel or sequel to a Henson creation, but rather an adaptation of one that was never made. Henson and Jerry Juhl had written a screenplay titled Tale of Sand early in their careers which was never made, one that artist Ramon K. Perez has adapted into a graphic novel. And the end result? It’ll probably make you wish someone had filmed this script.

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Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1

Written by Brian Holguin and Barbara Randall Kesel
Art by Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John
Concept by Brian Froud
96 pages, color
Published by Archaia

As a kid, I didn’t like the film of The Dark Crystal. The problem I had with the film was simple; I’d read A.C.H. Smith’s novelization first. I remember reading it over and over again back in 1982, fascinated by the world of Thra’s mythology and grand ideas that came to life in the book. By the time I finally saw the film a few months later, it felt curiously empty in comparison. So many of the big ideas that I’d gotten from Smith’s book were muted in the film, and it just didn’t live up to what I’d wanted from it. It’s somewhat apt, then, to find that Archaia’s new The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths manages to scratch that same itch that Smith’s novelization did back in the day, filling me once more with that sense of awe and wonder.

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Rust: Visitor in the Field

By Royden Lepp
192 pages, two-color
Published by Archaia

One of the things I like about comics these days is that the idea of launching a series of graphic novels isn’t as outlandish as it was a decade ago. Normally you’d have to go for the 32-page comic serialization route, even if the story didn’t necessarily fit that structure. Royden Lepp’s Rust: Visitor in the Field is a prime example of a book that wouldn’t have worked quite so well as a series of single comics. A lot of the book’s power is its slow build and spooling out its future history to the reader; at 192 pages, it’s just the right length for an opening installment.

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The Sigh

By Marjane Satrapi
56 pages, color
Published by Archaia

It would be a reasonable assumption to feel that Marjane Satrapi’s new book, The Sigh, is a comic. After all, she’s best known for her comic Persepolis (which was created into an excellent animated film), and has continued to work in that medium since then. The Sigh is an illustrated story book, though, showcasing her drawings but pairing it with prose instead of panels and sequential art storytelling. It’s a charming book, though, one that mixes elements from several different familiar fairy tales and turns them into a greater whole. The Sigh borrows the most from Beauty and the Beast, with the merchant promising to bring back presents for his daughter, and the mysterious castle with the secretive person inside. Almost immediately things change, though; Satrapi gives Rose (the Belle stand-in) an interest in botany as part of her request for a gift, and one gets the impression that this is going to be a smarter and slightly more daring take on the story.

As the book progresses, Satrapi throws in several curveballs that will no doubt surprise readers. In particular, there’s a casual attitude to slavery that might throw Western audiences for a loop, even as subtly reminds them that this is a book born not only out of fairy tales that we grew up with, but ones that Satrapi did as well. The Sigh becomes episodic in nature for the second half, but it’s to Satrapi’s credit that she also keeps it from going on for too long; by the time you see the pattern forming, she’s cut it off at the knees and moved on to the conclusion. Readers might be a little disappointed to not get a full graphic novel from Satrapi, but her art is still soft and charming—at times it looks almost like it was (expertly) drawn in crayons, which helps the fairy tale nature of the book—and in the end it’s satisfying in its own right. Satrapi takes the familiar and makes it just unfamiliar enough that it will have your attention from start to finish.

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An Elegy for Amelia Johnson

Written by Andrew Rostan
Art by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow
120 pages, black and white
Published by Archaia

It’s hard, sometimes, to not feel a tiny bit cynical about a graphic novel, in a time where so many are secretly (or not-so-secretly) doubling as movie pitches. In the case of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, writer Andrew Rostan confuses the issue a bit, giving that feel perhaps because so much of the book is about making a movie. It is apt to feel that way, though, because just like many a movie, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is the sort of book that is all right on your first exposure, but just falls apart the more you look at it.

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Return of the Dapper Men

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Janet Lee
128 pages, color
Published by Archaia Comics

There’s a certain rhythm and storytelling style to children’s books that I’ve always appreciated; that exploration of the mythic and the feeling that you’re getting a story that will stand the test of time, even if it’s brand new. It’s a feel I kept getting when reading Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men, with its clockwork people and city where time has stopped. What struck me the most after finishing this book was that McCann and Lee have created a book where style has slightly won out over substance, but that as a reader you’ll be just fine with that.

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