Scholastic – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Drama http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/14/drama/ Fri, 14 Sep 2012 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2390 By Raina Telgemeier240 pages, colorPublished 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 [...]]]> 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.

Smile follows Callie, a seventh-grader who loves everything about the theatre but also knows her own limitations and stays behind the scenes to work on the technical crew. As the club begins to work on a production of Moon over Mississippi to round out the school year, Callie finds herself not only consumed with the production of the show itself, but also the people involved. Relationships (both romantic and just friendly) grow and dwindle, technical aspects continue to be problematic, and all sorts of surprises are just waiting to surface. In short… welcome to junior high.

I’ve joked before that the reason why junior high/middle school only encompasses two or three grades (instead of four to six) is because teenagers going through puberty need to be isolated from the rest of the world, but of course there’s more than a grain of truth to that statement. Telgemeier captures that confusing time in a teen’s life—as you and all of your peers are simultaneously going through surges of hormones—with startling accuracy in Drama. Callie throughout the course of the book makes friends, has fights, picks the boy of her dreams, picks a different boy of her dreams, and fumbles her way through the school year. This is, as anyone who can remember middle school, a transcript of about half of the students’ life at any given establishment. But as Callie makes mistakes (and also triumphs), what’s nice is that Telgemeier never has to resort to Callie being stupid. That’s an easy out in so many books like this, but Drama avoids that annoying pitfall. Instead Callie’s blunders (as big or small as they are) occur out of not having gathered enough information about others or even herself. As Drama moves through the production of Moon over Mississippi, Callie learns and grows but without any sort of saccharine aftertaste.

It helps that Drama has a strong supporting cast to move through the story with Callie. Telgemeier gives the meat of the story to her—the flashback explaining how Callie first fell in love with the theatre and over the years grew a great appreciation is just one strong and memorable moment—but that’s not to say that others can’t join in. Twins Justin and Jesse get a good part to play here as well; they’re not only facilitators for information about Callie (like their trips to the different bookstores), but each of them help her grow in their own way. Though Jesse gets more of a spotlight than Justin, both of them get their own character moments within Callie’s story. Justin’s early coming-out to Callie (obvious to most savvy readers well before it happens, but surprising to the still-learning Callie) is a strong emotional scene even as it’s necessary to the plot. It’s Jesse explaining how he’s trying to show everyone that he and Justin have their own identities at the expense of suppressing similarities between him and his twin that ends up being one of the most memorable moments of the book, though. It’s as much of an "aha" moment as it is a little sad, and it helps define a lot of Jesse’s own story as it interweaves with Callie’s.

Some of the more minor characters don’t get quite as much, but even then there’s enough of a defining characteristic to show us how Callie sees them. Callie’s little brother and mother are prime examples of this; because it’s all through Callie’s eyes, her brother is an annoying chatterbox and her mother is little more than a presence. They don’t have a large enough role in Callie’s life (yet) that she pays attention to them at the same level that her friends in school do, and it fits. If anything, Telgemeier helps define these smaller characters through her art. Richard’s eagerness at being around Callie is reflected in his manic movement and excitement that just radiates off the page; Callie might not be able to see her brother as more than a pest, but Telgemeier subtly shows it to us.

Some other artistic moments are a little more blatant. When Callie is showing Jesse her favorite coffee table book about the history of theatre, she drops the duo of them into the pages of the book and the moments that it depicts. It’s a fun way to show Callie’s obsession and desire to become part of the book’s world, but in a way that avoids heavy-handed narration. In general, Telgemeier’s expressions are also somewhat blatant, but that’s a good thing. Few characters have a poker face; instead they light up with smiles or collapse into frowns and tears. It’s something that I’ve always loved about Telgemeier’s art; when characters are happy, it radiates so strongly off the page that it ultimately feels infectious and the whole book smiles with them. The Gurihiru studio provides the colors for Drama and they’re a strong match for Telgemeier’s art; bright and impressive without overshadowing the lines. Even the lettering is nice; it’s mostly unobtrusive, but at the same time gets to take center stage when Callie performs her audition, at which point it crackles and blisters to show just how horrific that moment is.

Drama is another strong book from Telgemeier. It’s fun to see her writing one set in the present day; she incorporates technologies like cell phones and instant messaging into the narrative and keeps it a little more contemporary for her audience. At the same time, though, Drama is ultimately a book with a timeless message. As Callie maneuvers the pitfalls of middle school and finally is able to make the right decisions for herself, it’s a story that any and everyone can relate to, even as it includes a strong thread of inclusiveness inside of the bigger picture. Down to its charming opening and closing curtain moments (both figuratively and literally), Drama is a strong production from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Ghostopolis http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/07/09/ghostopolis/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/07/09/ghostopolis/#comments Fri, 09 Jul 2010 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1418 By Doug TenNapel272 pages, colorPublished by Graphix/Scholastic Books

Doug TenNapel is a cartoonist that I have a small (very small) love/hate relationship with, in terms of his work. More often than not, I’ll find myself enjoying his book up until the conclusion, at which point everything falls apart. His book Flink three years ago evoked [...]]]> By Doug TenNapel
272 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

Doug TenNapel is a cartoonist that I have a small (very small) love/hate relationship with, in terms of his work. More often than not, I’ll find myself enjoying his book up until the conclusion, at which point everything falls apart. His book Flink three years ago evoked a strong enough reaction that I decided it was time to stop buying his books for a while. And then, unbidden, Ghostopolis showed up in my mailbox. If this wasn’t a good sign that it had been long enough that I should take another look, well, there probably wouldn’t be a better one.

On the plus side, Ghostopolis is probably one of TenNapel’s strongest to date in terms of world-building and ideas; only his big debut of Creature Tech stands out more as being so chock full of ideas and situations that I found myself instantly warming to them. In the case of Ghostopolis, it’s actually a fairly simple setting—a transitional underworld of dead spirits and lots of strange creatures—but TenNapel populates it with large groups and sects of different types of spirits and monsters to make it more than just the traditional Limbo/Purgatory type setting. We enter Ghostopolis through a sequence set on Earth, where TenNapel introduces the Supernatural Immigration Task Force and Frank Gallows, a hapless investigator who sends wayward spirits back to Ghostopolis. His accidental sending of terminally ill kid Garth Hale into the afterlife allows TenNapel to impart exposition to the reader, explaining his setting as well as the dangers ahead for Garth.

From there, though, TenNapel mixes all sorts of elements into the book. There’s the rekindling of a romance between Frank and his ghost ex-girlfriend Claire Voyant (who isn’t actually clairvoyant, making the pun that much more painful), a meeting between Garth and his deceased grandfather who never had truly grown up, and a second civil war about to break out among the different tribes of Ghostopolis thanks to a manipulative leader. Ghostopolis is a book for teens, so there’s a lot of "finding yourself" messages packed into the book, but with a healthy dosage of adventure and excitement. And up until about the 80% mark of the book, I think it succeeds quite well.

Unfortunately, TenNapel’s endings are still a disappointment compared to what leads up to them. It’s not throw-the-book level bad, but it’s still a big letdown compared to the rest of the title. The major problems held by the characters of Ghostopolis are all dismissed with such ease that it feels like a massive cheat. This is after a huge climactic battle that also largely comes out of nowhere, so expectations at this point are already down. TenNapel still manages to make that look not so bad, though, as each of the obstacles are tossed aside with such indifference that it feels almost like TenNapel doesn’t have enough respect for his readers to give them a solid and substantial ending. For a book that almost hits 300 pages, having everything resolved in the last 15 pages and in such a blaisé manner is a bit much.

Happily, TenNapel’s art is still strong, with its sharp angular bodies and slightly goofy expression. Ironically it’s his drawings of a nightmare (a skeletal horse) that charmed me the most; for such an expressionless creature, TenNapel brings it to life better than just about anything else in Ghostopolis. That’s not to say the other characters don’t look good, though. Frank’s hangdog expression is amusing, and Claire manages to look cute and sexy in a full-length jumpsuit thanks to her expressions and curls of hair. In the end, it helps ease the overall feeling of disappointment with Ghostopolis.

I wanted to love Ghostopolis, and while I think he’s definitely improved since Flink, the ending is still problematic. I’m not sure if TenNapel simply runs out of space, or if he feels that such a fast (and slightly cheating) conclusion is a good idea, but either way it ends the book on a somewhat sour note. If he could work on that aspect of his comics, I could get behind him all the way. For now, it’s a cautious recommendation, with the understanding that sooner or later as you approach the ending, know that disappointment will arrive.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Missile Mouse Vol. 1: The Star Crusher http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/09/missile-mouse-the-star-crusher/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/09/missile-mouse-the-star-crusher/#comments Fri, 09 Apr 2010 08:00:05 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1287 By Jake Parker176 pages, colorPublished by Graphix/Scholastic Books

When I read Flight Explorer Vol. 1 a couple of years ago, one of the stories that stood out for me was Jake Parker’s Missile Mouse. It was a fun, exciting story that mixed fast-paced adventure with beautiful art. For that reason alone, I was delighted when [...]]]> By Jake Parker
176 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

When I read Flight Explorer Vol. 1 a couple of years ago, one of the stories that stood out for me was Jake Parker’s Missile Mouse. It was a fun, exciting story that mixed fast-paced adventure with beautiful art. For that reason alone, I was delighted when Scholastic published the full-length Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher graphic novel. But even having read Parker’s short story, I’ll admit that I was a little surprised with the contents of Missile Mouse, which managed to give me both more and less than I’d hoped for.

Like before, Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher is an old-fashioned science-fiction adventure, with Missile Mouse himself working to try and bring in rare and important artifacts to the Galactic Security Agency. With The Star Crusher, the tone reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones if the movies were set in the future rather than the past. One the opening mini-adventure is done, though, Parker brings Missile Mouse down a route that readers will be familiar with as he’s assigned an assistant by the GSA to try and keep Missile Mouse under control. While Missile Mouse is aimed at younger readers (ages 8-12), I was a little surprised by how predictable this part of the book turned out. There aren’t any surprises that don’t get telegraphed well in advance, with every single plot beat hitting right where you’d expect them to. It’s the big disappointment of Missile Mouse for me, because in the past Parker hadn’t seemed to go for the obvious like we get here.

On the other hand, I also hadn’t expected to see a subplot about Missile Mouse’s deceased father, and how those final moments before death helped shape Missile Mouse into the adult he became. It’s a slightly grim series of flashbacks, but more importantly I also found it to be an emotionally affecting sequence. Parker doesn’t shy away from this portion of the book, and I became quickly impressed at his not fearing such a serious subject in the book. While the basic plot of the book didn’t surprise me, this portion was easily the exception.

The parts of Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher that turned out exactly as I thought were the sense of adventure, and Parker’s art. Parker keeps the book moving at a fast clip, and I like the lost treasures of technology aspect that Missile Mouse and the bad guys are both scrambling to obtain. The book never lets you get bored, with big ideas lurking around the corner for our hero at every single turn. Parker’s animation background is also a big help in the level of energy and flow of his characters. From getting thrown around by a tentacled monster to leaping into the sewers, images never look static or motionless for even an instant. If I had to describe Parker’s art in one word, it would be, "lively." When a book looks this good (and Parker’s character designs are also great; who’d have thought a mouse in a jumpsuit with goggles tucked up over his ears could be so right?), it’s hard to not enjoy the overall package.

I’d have liked to see a bit more unpredictably in Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher, but fortunately there are enough other parts of the book that will entertain the average reader. It’s an all-ages book that I think will have a greater appeal to its target audience than adults, but there’s still a little something for everyone. I know if I had a 10-year old, Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher would probably be an upcoming birthday present. I’ll definitely take a look at the next Missile Mouse book when it hits bookshelves early next year.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Smile http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/02/24/smile/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/02/24/smile/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2010 08:00:35 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1236 By Raina Telgemeier224 pages, colorPublished by Graphix/Scholastic Books

If you ask someone for a story about going to the dentist, chances are they’re going to have a nightmare experience to tell you all about. I think having no bad dental stories either means you have an incredible amount of luck, you aren’t that old just [...]]]> By Raina Telgemeier
224 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

If you ask someone for a story about going to the dentist, chances are they’re going to have a nightmare experience to tell you all about. I think having no bad dental stories either means you have an incredible amount of luck, you aren’t that old just yet, or you don’t go to the dentist. So on that note alone, there’s an instant hook for people to read Smile, Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical story centered around a particularly nasty dental drama when she was a teenager. But in the case of Smile, it’s actually more of a window dressing for what I think is the real story at the center of the book, and that’s what makes it so compelling.

Smile follows Telgemeier from sixth through ninth grade, a time that just about everyone knows can be tumultuous under the best of circumstances. So as Telgemeier gets her two front teeth knocked out and begins a several-year ordeal to get her teeth back to normal without having to resort to dentures, it’s turning what would have been a stressful time into something that feels far worse. Watching her deal with her group of friends, and trying to find a balance between what she views as "childish" and "adult" is something that will ring true for far too many readers, I suspect. Junior and Senior High School seems to be that time when we shed some friends in favor of new ones that are a better fit, and it’s actually painful to watch Telgemeier go through this while having to worry about her teeth. Telgemeier avoids any temptation to whitewash her own behavior during this time period; she makes mistakes at times on who to hang out with, she blows it with a boy who’s interested in her, she acts selfish during difficult times. In other words, she acts like a teenager. It’s a well-rounded portrait of someone growing up during a stressful time.

Of course, the dental aspects of Smile are always front and center. I actually found this part of the story fascinating, to see the decisions that her dentist, orthodontist, and endodontist made to try and give her front teeth without having to resort to an eleven year old having dentures. Telgemeier takes us through every decision and procedure, explaining the reasoning behind the new ideas and how well they work. Some of them are pretty unorthodox, and I think it’s safe to say that unless you’ve got a doozy of a dental nightmare of your own to tell everyone about, you’ll be surprised by just what goes on here.

Smile‘s art looks deceptively simple, but hides a surprising amount of detail. From bashful looks as she sneaks a glance at boys, to blistering anger when a so-called friend wrongs her, Telgemeier shows a wide range of emotions on her alter-ego’s face. I love how everyone looks different and distinct from one another, to say nothing of the setting of Smile. The San Francisco Bay Area bursts to life in her drawings; I’ve only been there a few times but I found myself feeling like I was back on the west coast and seeing the sights all over again. She’s good with motion, too; the scene where the earthquake shakes everything in the Telgemeier family home is energetic, but even scenes with a character stomping across the page gives a strong sense of movement. After seeing The Little Mermaid Telgemeier tells a friend she wants to become an animator, and it definitely feels like she’s managed to do just that.

I’ve been reading Telgemeier’s comics for a long time, now. Not just books like her X-Men manga project or the Baby-Sitter’s Club adaptations, but her mini-comics and web comics as well. It’s been fun watching her hone her craft and become an accomplished creator (and New York Times Bestselling Author, it seems!), but I’ll admit that lately I’ve been waiting for Smile to show up more than anything else. I’d read about half of the book when it was being serialized online, and it was a real treat to see it come to a conclusion. From Nintendo to the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, it’s a vivid flashback to an earlier time in both Telgemeier’s life as well as my own. This is a sharp, strong book that I hope does gangbusters in terms of sales. Interestingly enough, based on the book’s cover and dimensions, it looks like Scholastic is going to try and get it shelved with prose books for young adults, and if that means a larger audience than I applaud them for it. This is a book I would have adored as a teenager, but even though I’m over twice the age of that target audience it’s still a joy to read.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Copper http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/02/15/copper/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/02/15/copper/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2010 08:00:34 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1215 By Kazu Kibuishi96 pages, colorPublished by Graphix/Scholastic Books

One of my favorite webcomics is Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper, so a collection of all the stories to date was going to be an automatic winner in my house. For fans who devoured all the strips online, there’s still an attraction for the print version; not only are [...]]]> By Kazu Kibuishi
96 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

One of my favorite webcomics is Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper, so a collection of all the stories to date was going to be an automatic winner in my house. For fans who devoured all the strips online, there’s still an attraction for the print version; not only are they all collected in one place, but Kibuishi’s stories from the Flight anthologies are included as well, plus a step-by-step examining of how Kibuishi creates the comic. But more importantly, if you haven’t read Copper before? Think of a strange mixture of introspection, observations on the world, the comics of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and Calvin & Hobbes.

Reading the strips from its inception, it’s fun to watch Copper (and his dog Fred) shift from someone whose goes from observing the strangeness around him, to adventure that only exists in his dreams, to finally stepping out and seizing the day. Copper and Fred jump from the top of one massive mushroom to the next to cross a massive gorge, fly a helicopter in search of the perfect melon bread, or sometimes just wander by something interesting and stop to examine it further. More often than not it’s Copper who’s the adventurous one, having to coax the complaining Fred along with him. If all we ever got out of Copper was his adventurous spirit, he’d be a good enough protagonist.

What I appreciate, though, is that Copper is someone who’s thoughtful and observant as well. When plans don’t work out well as he’d thought, he takes it with grace and dignity. He’s someone who eschews upgrades simply for the sake of doing so (rather than being needed), from clocks and signs to mega-markets and one’s home. There’s a certain peaceful nature that follows Copper around throughout the comic, and when coupled with his general level-headed reaction to Fred’s frequent freak-outs, it makes him an attractive protagonist to read about. And of course, even when he’s at his best, Copper still can get flummoxed from time to time. Sometimes it’s a decision that didn’t turn out quite like he’d hoped, other times it’s the cute girl in the pointy glasses that appears on occasion, but it’s a reminder that even he’s fallible from time to time.

While most of Copper is upbeat and fun, I also have to commend Kibuishi in occasionally having a darker strip. Those are usually helmed by Fred, suffering from self-doubt and quite possibly depression as he starts wondering what he’s really doing. "Good Life" and "Marketplace" are both examples of this, as Fred is internally torn up by doubts about his worth. It’s impressive, in part because for such a normally cheerful strip, Kibuishi has a dead-on accurate depiction of clinical depression.

Part of the attraction of Copper is also in the art. I love the detailed scenes that Kibuishi draws, from vast forest to underwater vistas. Even something as simple-sounding as a massive clock full of gears looks jaw-droppingly beautiful; there’s a lot of detail packed into the world of Copper, all with soft lines and soft but gorgeous colors. Reading at the end of the book how Kibuishi draws the book ended up being especially enlightening; looking at the coloring process is not only a reminder of how much work goes into a single page, but all of the finer details that might go unnoticed.

If you’re only familiar with Kibuishi through books like Amulet and Flight, you might be surprised by Copper. Don’t get me wrong, I love the other comics as well, but Copper has always seemed like a slightly more personal project for Kibuishi. Copper made me overjoyed upon reading it, and as soon as I was done I read it all over again. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Baby-Sitters Club Vol. 4: Claudia and Mean Janine http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/11/21/baby-sitters-club-vol-4/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/11/21/baby-sitters-club-vol-4/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2008 05:00:26 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=689 By Raina TelgemeierAdapted from the book by Ann M. Martin192 pages, black and whitePublished by Graphix/Scholastic Books

I admitted a few years ago that when I was much younger, I’d secretly read my younger sister’s Baby-Sitters Club books. It’s been a real joy reading Raina Telgemeier’s adaptations of the books since then; there’s so much [...]]]> By Raina Telgemeier
Adapted from the book by Ann M. Martin
192 pages, black and white
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

I admitted a few years ago that when I was much younger, I’d secretly read my younger sister’s Baby-Sitters Club books. It’s been a real joy reading Raina Telgemeier’s adaptations of the books since then; there’s so much cleverness and fun packed into each book, and Telgemeier does a superb of bringing them out. Claudia and Mean Janine is the fourth (and possibly final) adaptation in the series, and I think that Telgemeier has saved the best for last. It’s definitely the most serious of the four, but in some ways I think it’s what helps it be so strong.

Claudia and Janine don’t get along under the best of circumstances. Claudia’s the younger, "artsy" sister whose parents often seem a little bewildered by their daughter. Her older sister Janine, on the other hand, is their parents’s dream child: a certified genius who is already taking college level classes while still in high school, and who spends her free time working on her web sites. Claudia’s one confidant in the family is her grandmother Mimi, as the two do just about everything possible together… but then one night, when Mimi has a stroke, everything changes at home.

When I was reading Claudia and Mean Janine, I couldn’t help but think, "Wow, this is some seriously heavy duty stuff for teenagers." But you know what? It’s not like it’s something they’ve never heard of, and I suspect that most people have at least a member of their extended family who’s gone through some rough medical times. So if anything, it’s a good thing that Baby-Sitters Club books weren’t afraid to tackle the plot line of a family member having a stroke; I can’t help but think that in many ways it acted as good primer for other kids over the years to deal with a similar situation in their own family. Medically, the story is really sound; Mimi’s recovery is slow and not without its ups and downs, and both Ann M. Martin and Telgemeier have treated Mimi’s story with honesty and respect. At the end of the day, things aren’t perfect, and I’m glad that the urge to gloss over the situation was resisted.

As for the rest of the story, it also falls into place with great ease. Claudia and Janine’s conflict felt very true to life for me, and Telgemeier does a good job of not rushing (or prolonging) their fights and eventual understanding of each other. You can easily see how they’ve drifted apart, and care is brought to the project to not make Janine a soulless villain. The rest of the cast get their own time in the spotlight as well; I appreciated that Telgemeier brought forward the Dawn and Kristy friendship issues from the previous book, and even better Telgemeier makes sure that if you’ve never read another Baby-Sitters Club book that you’re not lost. There’s a bit early on where Claudia comments, "Our only real problem was Jenny Prezzioso… and none of us was too surprised." Telgemeier assumes that you may not know (or remember) who Jenny is, though, and immediately shows the reader Jenny’s long-standing issues. It’s good storytelling, and Telgemeier always keeps it in mind.

I have to say, though, the biggest draw for me with these Baby-Sitters Club adaptations is getting lots of Telgemeier’s art. I love how she draws her characters, especially younger kids, and how they just burst to life on the page. Jenny’s red-faced shriek at Claudia (with poor Claudia putting her hands up as if to somehow push away the yells) makes you feel like you can actually hear her, and I love Karen’s sly glance towards Jenny as she lets her, "…but watch out for the monster," line slide. From swinging on ropes to chasing a dog, there’s always such an amazing sense of motion in Telgemeier’s art; I’m not entirely sure how she pulls it off, to be honest, but she does it in almost every panel. Even something as simple as Claudia turning her head towards her mother at dinner has it, and I’m impressed.

I’m sad that this is the last, for now, of the Baby-Sitters Club adaptations, if only because it meant a steady stream of new books from Telgemeier. That said, I do think that Martin’s books were a good match for Telgemeier’s talents, and she made them come to life all over again. She also did a good job of updating the books but in a subtle way, like mentions of Janine working on web sites and learning PHP, both of which were certainly more antiquated computer talents in the novels. These have been four excellent graphic novels, and hopefully both Baby-Sitters Club and Telgemeier have landed a whole new set of fans as a direct result.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Good Neighbors Vol. 1: Kin http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/10/31/good-neighbors-vol-1-kin/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/10/31/good-neighbors-vol-1-kin/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2008 04:00:04 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=634 Written by Holly Black Art by Ted Naifeh 144 pages, black and white Published by Scholastic

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Ted Naifeh’s, especially when he’s working on books like Courtney Crumrin, or Polly and the Pirates; his ability to write and draw his young female characters as strong, intelligent protagonists has [...]]]> Written by Holly Black
Art by Ted Naifeh
144 pages, black and white
Published by Scholastic

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Ted Naifeh’s, especially when he’s working on books like Courtney Crumrin, or Polly and the Pirates; his ability to write and draw his young female characters as strong, intelligent protagonists has always been a real attraction. So, the idea of Naifeh teaming up with young adult novelist Holly Black seemed like a perfect match, with Black not afraid to tell dark, creepy stories that Naifeh himself is so good at.

Rue Silver’s mother has vanished, and her father doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Hanging out with her fellow teenage friends, Rue’s got some problems on her own; she’s started to see strange creatures and figures lurking among corners, or sometimes even in broad daylight. And if anything, these visions are getting stronger, not weaker. When one of her father’s students at university vanishes, though, Rue’s no longer able to stand on the sidelines. What she’ll discover about these two disappearances, though, will certainly change Rue’s life forever.

Black seems to be learning how to write comics as the book progresses, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The book opens with no back story, no explanation for what’s going on with any of our characters. It’s actually a tiny bit confusing at first, but Black seems to ease into having limited narration opportunities (unlike a novel) with relative ease, the script flowing more smoothly with each page. Then again, I think that’s also true to some extent with the plot. At first, it seems like a very standard, by-the-numbers “girl discovers she is really part faerie” story. Maybe it’s because Black makes Rue so oblivious to what is obvious to the reader, that she’s able to then slip in a lot of twists into the story; you’re so busy looking at one piece of the puzzle that you miss all of the other scattered around and waiting to be discovered. By the time this volume of The Good Neighbors came to a conclusion, I was fully impressed and convinced that Black can write comics, and am also quite ready for the next volume to show up.

Naifeh’s art in The Good Neighbors is, I think, the best in his career to date. Just looking at some of the faerie creatures alone is worth the price of admission, with elegant, multi-sectioned wings, or belts made of numerous sea-shells all strung together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much detail in Naifeh’s art before, and it’s a really beautiful end result. A lot of the punch comes from his delicate gray washes on each page, providing an extra layer of depth to each panel. He’s able to use it for all sorts of things, from shadows on the side of Rue’s worried face as she tilts her head to one side, to extra ripples of water as it laps around a fallen body. There’s such a strong richness in each drawing, from individual leaves on vines to elaborately drawn 1890s Irish houses, that you can tell that Naifeh has gone above and beyond his normal abilities here.

The Good Neighbors: Kin is a strong opening to a three-volume series; while it may begin quietly, once things really start moving it never stops for even an instant. With enough plot twists and surprises, and a visually-perfect cliffhanger, you’ll want to read more. Me, I’m just impressed that someone came up with the idea of Black and Naifeh collaborating, and disappointed that no one had thought of it up until now. Normally I want to see books that Naifeh’s written and drawn, but this is a series where I’m quite happy to have Black in the writer’s chair. Good stuff.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/07/18/knights-of-the-dinner-table/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/07/18/knights-of-the-dinner-table/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2008 04:00:27 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=532 By Frank Cammuso 144 pages, color Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about the increasing number of all-ages comics is that I’m seeing more and more talented creators launching books and series under its aegis. So, for example, when Frank Cammuso has a new graphic novel series from Scholastic [...]]]> By Frank Cammuso
144 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about the increasing number of all-ages comics is that I’m seeing more and more talented creators launching books and series under its aegis. So, for example, when Frank Cammuso has a new graphic novel series from Scholastic Books that mixes junior high drama with Arthurian myths, I’m excited. Sure, I’m not the target audience, but when the book is this much fun that really isn’t a problem at all.


Artie King and his family have just moved to a new town, and that means a new school—Camelot Middle School. If his older sister Morgan wasn’t trouble enough, Artie almost instantly runs into Joe and the Horde, the bullies that rule the hallways of Camelot. Can Artie and his friends avoid suspension and the baleful eye of Principal Dagger? Will science teacher Mr. Merlyn steer Artie towards victory? Can Artie open the fabled locker that is supposed to bring a leader to the students of Camelot? And most importantly, how will they ever survive the dodgeball tournament?

For a book that’s just 144 pages long, it’s more than a little surprising at how much story Cammuso can pack into just one volume. In my brief description, there are still a lot of characters and situations that I didn’t even begin to touch on, but at the same time Cammuso’s managed to get them all in there without feeling rushed. I really like the setting that we have for Knights of the Lunch Table; it’s not just the school, but local places like the arcade and the underground sewer tunnels. Likewise, there are a lot of characters once you move out of Artie’s immediate social circle and include all of the supporting cast. Some are better fleshed out than others, but it’s also just the first book in a series.

The merging of Arthurian legend and modern day junior high works remarkably well. It helps that Cammuso isn’t beholden to everything that happened in the original stories, picking and choosing what he wants to use in Knights of the Lunch Table. So for instance, Artie does have a nemesis in the form of older sister Morgan, but unlike King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay, I don’t think we have to worry about them conceiving little baby Mordred. My favorite change, easily, has to be swapping out the Sword in the Stone for a locker that no one can open. The basic thrust is still the same—an unmovable object that is untouchable until touched by its proper master—but not only does it remove edged weapons from a junior high setting, but there’s nothing more iconic about those years in school than a locker. Cammuso gets a lot of use out of it, too, letting it operate as a deus ex machina when needed, but thankfully never making things too easy for Artie. Like a lot of books aimed at younger readers, Artie goes through his own journey here, telling a lie early on in an effort to fit in, then eventually having to own up to it. It’s predictable, but it’s done with a lot of charm; it’s something that both younger and older readers can appreciate.

Just like his art in Otto’s Orange Day, Cammuso draws an attractive looking book in Knights of the Lunch Table. Artie and his friends are drawn with a crisp, simple style. Some elements are slightly exaggerated for comedic effect (especially the members of the Horde), but it’s never ludicrous or over the top. I also appreciated that in many ways this is a colorblind book; for a book that regularly uses non-white characters, there’s never a big deal made about the fact. Best of all, there are lots of little details in the backgrounds of the art. Savage’s throne being an armchair on top of 24-packs of soda, for instance, or the beautiful orange leaves of autumn that surround the entrance to the sewer and are all over the place.

Full of funny little jokes that fly left and right (Hadrian’s Mall had me in hysterics) but accessible to those who have read both lots or no stories of the British Isles, Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles is a real treat, and another winner for Scholastic. Hopefully it won’t be too long until a second volume, because I’m already on board and waiting.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Amulet Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/12/21/amulet-vol-1-the-stonekeeper/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/12/21/amulet-vol-1-the-stonekeeper/#comments Fri, 21 Dec 2007 05:00:45 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/12/21/amulet-vol-1-the-stonekeeper/ By Kazu Kibuishi 208 pages, color Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

In mid-2006, Kazu Kibuishi temporarily placed his monthly webcomic Copper on hold so he could work on a new project, Amulet. I’ll admit that I was feeling more than a little grouchy at the time this knowledge came out; what was this strange new interloper [...]]]> By Kazu Kibuishi
208 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

In mid-2006, Kazu Kibuishi temporarily placed his monthly webcomic Copper on hold so he could work on a new project, Amulet. I’ll admit that I was feeling more than a little grouchy at the time this knowledge came out; what was this strange new interloper that was coming between me and my beloved Copper? It was a little silly, with Kibuishi’s stories in the Flight anthologies as well as Daisy Kutter having certainly proven that Kibuishi wasn’t a one-trick pony. But in the back of my head was always the mantra, “Wait and see,” when it came to Amulet. Now the waiting is over—and trust me when I say that there is plenty of seeing to be done.

Emily and Navin are moving, again. After a road accident took their father from them, their mother has decided it’s time to move to their grandfather’s old home deep in the woods. Grandpa Silas was an inventor, though, and there are a number of peculiar creations and creatures lurking in the home. When their mother is taken captive by a monster that looks like a cross between an octopus and a spider, though, the two are forced to cross into another world where a mysterious amulet is guiding them towards their last chance to save their family—and a lot of danger as well.

Amulet is the sort of book that hits the ground running in terms of story, plunging the reader into a tense situation in a matter of pages. Things never really let up, either. While Kibuishi takes a little bit of time introducing Emily, Navin, and their mother, you’re also already seeing monsters lurking around the corners, just trying to strike at them. It’s much to Kibuishi’s credit that this non-stop action never feels tiring or gratuitous; turning the pages, even though I’m probably a little older than the book’s youngest intended readers, I was near-breathless to see just what would happen next. Maybe it’s because Kibuishi starts the book off with a tragedy that you never lose the impression that bad things might happen to our heroes, maybe it’s merely the imaginative forms of the monsters in Amulet, but there always seems to be a remarkably high level of tension in the book. I also appreciated that Amulet isn’t a one-character show; while Emily is in many ways the main character, especially with her possession of the titular amulet, she’s by no means the only person who can accomplish things in the story. Navin gets his own turn in the spotlight, and everyone from their mother to their mysterious allies in the other world has something to do.

Readers of the Flight anthologies or of Copper will be completely unsurprised at how beautiful Amulet‘s art is. Kibuishi has a smooth, energetic line in his art, with animation-influenced character designs and backgrounds. There’s a lush richness to the pages of the book, with little details like covered bridges across streams and ornate window designs just being the tip of the iceberg, background effects to a comic where so much thought has been placed into its visuals. This is the sort of book where children will be staring at it for hours, just drinking in all of the strange and wonderful creations scattered throughout its pages. From walking buildings to living creatures as prisons, Kibuishi makes every concept seem simultaneously amazing and realistic. I also have to give Kibuishi a special amount of credit for making the monsters in Amulet so great; each one seems more fantastical than the previous one, and these are definitely ones that will excite and even scare readers a little bit. I think that people who pick up Amulet and just look at the visuals without reading the book will still get more than their money’s worth—not that one should skip its strong writing, of course.

By the time I was done with Amulet Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper, I was simultaneously impressed with how much Kibuishi packed into its 208 pages, and wondering just how one more volume can possibly wrap everything up. Then I realized it wasn’t that I doubted Kibuishi could do it, but rather that I was hoping the series would be longer because the idea of only one more volume was a little sad to contemplate. Needless to say, I’m fully convinced that putting Copper on hold to work on Amulet was more than worth it. If you’re looking for a new graphic novel to kick off the new year, I think you’ve got a winner right here.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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Breaking Up http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/02/05/breaking-up/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/02/05/breaking-up/#comments Mon, 05 Feb 2007 05:00:45 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/02/05/breaking-up/ Written by Aimee Friedman Art by Christine Norrie 192 pages, black and white Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

“Wouldn’t it be fun to go back and do it all again?” It’s a phrase that’s often aimed at the teenage/high school experience, and to be honest it’s a little mind-boggling. To me, high school life was [...]]]> Written by Aimee Friedman
Art by Christine Norrie
192 pages, black and white
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

“Wouldn’t it be fun to go back and do it all again?” It’s a phrase that’s often aimed at the teenage/high school experience, and to be honest it’s a little mind-boggling. To me, high school life was punctuated with four years of confusing hormones, cruel teenagers (myself included), and generally immature behavior. Friendships were made and broken at the drop of a hat, no one had the answers they were looking for, and the rest of life was still one big question mark. Reading Aimee Friedman and Christine Norrie’s Breaking Up drove home two points along those lines for me. First, that high school really was exactly as I remembered it. Second, while I may be over twice as old as the characters in Breaking Up, some things in life really never do change.

Chloe, Erika, Isabel, and MacKenzie are eleventh graders at the Georgia O’Keeffe School for the Arts, where trendy and talented go hand-in-hand, or at least walk by each other in the hallways. These four girls are the best of friends, sharing everything—classes, gossip, secrets, and opinions. What Chloe and the others are about to discover is that while wisdom does not necessarily come with age, change certainly does. The girls are slowly drifting apart, but can they mend their fences and reunite? And perhaps more importantly, is that something they really should even attempt?

Friedman wastes no time in plunging the reader into the world of Fashion High, providing education on not only our main character and her group of immediate friends, but on the cliques and social standings of those around her. Like fellow Graphix-imprint graphic novel Queen Bee, social standings are crucial to Breaking Up. It drives a lot of the characters and defines their decisions in life, and while you may not always agree with what they’re saying or doing Friedman always makes it understandable. It’s an important part of Breaking Up, because it keeps people like MacKenzie from transforming into a one-dimensional villain. Instead she’s merely another confused high school student trying to make what she thinks are the best choices for herself, fumbling her way through life. That’s really most of the characters in the book, of course. Chloe makes both good and bad decisions throughout Breaking Up, but it’s to Friedman’s credit that as a reader we always care about Chloe and the outcome of those choices. Chloe’s an extremely likable person despite her occasional faults, and you really want her to succeed. One of the best things about Breaking Up, though, is that Friedman resists the urge to tie everything up in a neat bow at the conclusion of the book. The disintegration of a friendship—especially a close one—isn’t easy to fix, and there’s no magical solution offered here. In the end, a lot is left up in the air, just like real life. There’s certainly hope in the air, but it’s a tentative and fragile one. Part of Breaking Up‘s strength is its believability, and this part of the book is no exception.

Norrie’s art for Breaking Up is unsurprisingly beautiful. She’s got a nice, gentle ink line that carefully forms the jaw lines and cascades of hair of her characters, bringing them to life in a realistic but unposed manner. Norrie pays close attention to fashions here, dressing the girls in a wide variety of outfits that both reflect their personalities and their ages in general. It gives the book an extra air of credibility, making Breaking Up feel like you’re getting a glimpse into a real group of people’s lives. Norrie’s able to make the book’s artistic flights of fancy seem believable, like Chloe’s sudden transformation into Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter in response to the idea of becoming a social leper for kissing the wrong boy, or hopscotching across puddles marked “tension,” “conflict,” and “argument” when thinking about hating her friends being upset with her. Best of all, though, is Norrie’s drawings of Adam Stevenson. Geeky and at the bottom of the school pecking order, Norrie at first draws him as our characters view him based on his social standing; awkward, nerdy, and avoidable. As Chloe gets to know him, though, Norrie slowly transforms how she draws him to reveal what he really is like. You really understand what Chloe’s beginning to see in him, even as we continue to see through other characters’s eyes the “old” Adam. It’s a nice contrast, really brought home when we see the two depictions of him side-by-side, and something that could really only be accomplished through Norrie’s art instead of just prose.

Breaking Up may be a book aimed at young adults, but I think there’s a lot here for everyone to enjoy. Conflicts between friends may not happen in an academic setting as life continues, but otherwise a lot of the story can be mapped onto the lives of older readers. Friedman and Norrie’s story of real life disasters rings true enough that it’s hard to imagine a reader not getting pulled into its orbit. The cover of Breaking Up proclaims it to be “A Fashion High Graphic Novel” and I’m hoping that means we’ll be seeing more of Chloe and company before too long. This creation is rich enough that you’ll want to go back for more.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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