Despite living in the Quad Cities nearly 20 years I have only a rudimentary knowledge of local jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. I feel like I am missing out on an important part of local lore.
In the graphic biography Bix by Scott Chantler, the musician’s story is illustrated rather than told. With the use of wordless, static, straight panels we get a sense of Bix’s confining young life when in school and interacting with his parents, particularly his father. As a reader, I can feel the panels trying to fit him into a box, making me feel claustrophobic for the protagonist. Finally the panels begin to float and dance on the page whenever music is in the scene — whether hearing it pass on a riverboat, trying the trumpet for the first time or upon entering a Chicago jazz club.
Once Bix makes the decision to leave Iowa and dedicate his career to music he leads a life typical of young adults: work, good times, and romance. Just when I started to think of Bix as a nice guy who got swept up in talent and fame come scenes that show an in-demand, cocky musician willing to lie and manipulate. In this graphic biography, we don’t hear Bix speak until this part of the book — about a third of the way through. His first conversation? A lie he tells his girlfriend. Bix becomes difficult to work with and unreliable. Static panels return to show drinking as a default reaction to everything — both good and bad. As his drinking spiraled out of control, my heart broke for the lost talent.
I was pleased to catch the familiar scenes of Davenport in the early pages. It took me the better part of an afternoon to read, but the time was spent getting a better sense of of who Bix was beyond his connection to the Quad-Cities. The life of Bix Beiderbecke doesn’t fit neatly into a box. He wasn’t just a ground-breaking, successful jazz soloist. He wasn’t just a wide-eyed innocent guy in over his head. This graphic novel treats its subject with compassion and care while not forgiving him for his self-destructive behavior. Through artful storytelling I have a better understanding of Bix’s multilayered life.
Bix is available on Overdrive as well as physical format.
When I start something new, I have to start at the very beginning. Lately, I’ve been wanting to take a deep dive into the world of graphic novels, but I know I’d quickly get overwhelmed. However, Harleen might be the perfect fit to both start at the beginning and jump into an established universe. The new graphic novel from Stjepan Sejic tells the fall-from-grace origin story of Batman and Gotham City’s favorite antihero — Harley Quinn.
We meet a restless Dr. Harleen Quinzel looking for funding to develop a method for detecting stages of deteriorating empathy. What are the trigger points throughout a lifetime for creating a sociopath? After presenting her theory at a conference she encounters a classic Joker / Batman duel on the streets of Gotham City.
The outcome of this fight is:
- a demoralized Gotham City Police Department and the rise of the Executioners, a group of masked officers taking justice into their own hands.
- newly disfigured District Attorney Harvey Dent taking leadership of the Executioners and veering into his own villainous ways.
- Joker in the Arkham Asylum as a subject of Dr. Quinzel’s study, newly funded by the Wayne Foundation.
When Dr. Quinzel meets her new patient, the Joker (Mr. Jay, she respectfully calls him), she becomes infatuated with him. As she reflects often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dr. Quinzel alternates between falling for his manipulation that he is the perfect candidate for her study, therefore an asset to her career, and believing she can cure the Joker from his mental illness.
Dent and the Executioners stage a breakout of the Arkham Asylum. In an effort to protect the Joker, Quinzel kills a security guard, falls into the arms of the Joker and is baptized Harley Quinn.
The characters are complex and intriguing. More than once, I found myself questioning if Harleen and the Joker were manipulating other characters, themselves or me, the reader. Harleen and Harvey Dent struggle to keep a grasp on reality, while the Joker seems eager to get back to a world chaos and madness.
Clear flashbacks and subtle flash-forwards compel the story through a coherent timeline. There is so much set up for future stories, I’m looking forward to reading anything else that comes out of Sejic’s Harleen story and going further into this universe.
The first thing that drew me to Wytches by Scott Snyder was the cover, it did such a great job of grabbing my attention while also letting me know what the tone of the novel was going to be before I even opened the book. Dark, stylized art that was personal and small in scope. No world-ending apocalypse in this horror novel, just a family struggling to cope with their past and trying to accommodate to a new home. Little do they know that the woods that surround them holds an evil more sinister then they could imagine.
The horror in this novel comes from how little we see. As a fan of horror I always appreciate when a writer is able to show restraint in showing too much of the monster. Snyder does a fantastic job of only showing the wytches in little chunks throughout the story. It helps to preserve the mystery of the monster and horror is largely anchored in fear of the unknown, once the monster is explained to us, it ceases being as scary. Snyder knows this and does a fantastic job of showing the reader just enough of the wytches so that the reader knows to fear them.
Jock’s art is stylized, chaotic, yet also clearly defined. Some artists that draw in a similar style to Jock border on abstract art but Jock is able to draw these fantastically beautiful and dark settings and characters while grounding them as well. Jock is able to take the extremes of this chaotic art style, with bright and dark colors contrasting all across the frames with paint splatter and exaggerated figures and balance that style with a more grounded style and the two styles mesh wonderfully throughout the story and add to the tone and presentation of the work as a whole. Typically, the extreme exaggerated borderline abstract art is used when the supernatural is occurring, and this contrasts with the clearer more-traditional sections of the work where the protagonists aren’t being confronted by tree-wytches.
Overall, Wytches doesn’t go out and do anything that transcends the trappings of the horror genre, but it isn’t trying to. It is a very well-executed horror story about a family coming to terms their traumatic past, and in the process having to fight off supernatural wytches. It is a spooky story that nails it all where it counts. Atmosphere, art, writing and scares.
For other spooky scary stories, look no further than the Davenport Public Library’s Halloween Libguide! If you are looking for more graphic novels to dive into, our Comics Libguide is the one for you!
Fearscape by Ryan O’Sullivan
Have you ever had that coworker or fellow student that always talked like they knew everything and contributed the most to a project or assignment but in reality, they did the least amount of work? Protagonist, plagiarist and thief, Henry Henry is that guy.
Once a generation, The Muse, a being from an alternate dimension known as the Fearscape, comes to our dimension and finds the greatest storyteller of our time. Henry Henry was in the process of “borrowing” a great work of fiction when The Muse comes to earth in search of a great storyteller. The Muse mistakes Henry for a great writer and whisks him away to the Fearscape to fight an evil that threatens both the Fearscape and all of humanity. The Fearscape is a plane where fiction becomes reality, writers use their imagination to fight off evil beings.
O’Sullivan’s writing in this Graphic Novel is fantastic and witty. We get all of Henry’s internal dialog and justifications for every slimy and dishonest move that he makes and it makes the story all the more entertaining because of it. Fearscape is a satire on the current state of fiction in pulp culture but it also serves as a love letter to the art of writing fiction as a whole. Everyone knows someone like Henry in their lives and seeing him go through all the trials and tribulations that he does is cathartic and entertaining in a lot of ways. I loved to hate Henry as the story progressed and he got more and more enthralled in his web of lies and deceit, all the while proclaiming that he was indeed a great storyteller to the point where you know that on some level, Henry actually believes it about himself despite never writing an actual work of fiction himself.
Andrea Mutti does a fantastic job as Illustrator of this work, his faces are incredibly emotive and the worlds in which Mutti is tasked with illustrating are fantastical but grounded at the same time. There are fantastical and incredible creatures and characters in the fearscape but even in some of the more ridiculous scenes, I could always tell what was going on and what I was supposed to be focusing on in the panel.
I recommend Fearscape to anyone that loves the dark fantasy genre and enjoys a bit of satire. Fearscape pokes a lot of fun at the state of fiction and pop culture in this modern age. It is no coincidence that the “Greatest Storyteller” of our modern age is a plagiarist with no original ideas in this story. This story never takes itself too seriously and is a fun ride along the way.
Spider-Man has gone through a lot of changes during his over-50 year run. Peter Parker has graduated high school, college, gotten married, lost his powers, got them back again, then lost them again. There was even a time where we thought he would have a child. But then it was decided that an adult family-man Spider-Man went against what Spider-Man was all about so they reverted Peter Parker back to being a 20-something and got rid of the character of Mary Jane Watson all together. This story The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is a big What If story about what would have happened if Peter wasn’t reverted back to being a 20-something, was still married to Mary Jane and they had a child together.
This run of comics highlights everything that makes Spider-Man such an endearing and long-lasting character. Peter Parker isn’t just a guy that has an insane sense of responsibility that dresses up as a spider and beats up bag guys, he is also a person with real-life issues. Renew Your Vows is also about living life as a lower middle class family in a big city. While half of the book involves the spider family beating up bad guys, the other half focuses on them dealing with real life struggles such as Mary Jane’s small business and Peter trying to make ends meet with his photography job all while they are both trying to raise their daughter Annie (who also happens to have super powers).
Using tech scavenged from when Peter fought a previous big bad guy, he was able to make a suit that shares his super powers with Mary Jane so that she can help crime fight with her husband and daughter, it has a very Incredibles-esque dynamic of a family fighting bad guys together. There are some very interesting conflicts that Peter has to wrestle with that most parents will also find themselves reflecting on. It is ok to let your children fail and get hurt because it is how they learn. This message is one that Peter has an extra hard time with because he wants to protect his family but he also has to let them fend for themselves and be independent. The conflicts and themes are effectively woven between the bad guy fight scenes and the scenes when the characters aren’t wearing their super suits.
I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows to anyone that has wished for a married Peter Parker to return to comics, or anyone that thinks the idea of The Incredibles-meets-Spider-Man sounds like a really fun read. It is well-written and a lot of fun for comic book readers of all ages.
I’ll admit this right now: Lucy Knisley is one of my go-to graphic novel writers. I have yet to be disappointed by her delightful drawings and keen insights into the various stages of life that she writes about in each of her graphic novels. I have enjoyed following Lucy as she documents her journey through traveling adventures, food, family, and planning a wedding. When she posted on her Instagram that she was writing and drawing a new book, I was excited and made a note to check it out when it was published. Well…. I found it!
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos is Lucy’s latest graphic novel. This graphic memoir details Lucy’s desire to become a mother and her struggle to do so. Lucy was told throughout her entire life that anything is possible as long as you work hard enough and want it enough. What she found is that this isn’t true when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Lucy details, for all the world to see, the struggles that she and her partner went through in order to have a baby. She documents her fertility problems, miscarriages, and her eventual pregnancy that was chockful of health issues. This book ends with the birth of her son, Pal, but the information presented in it spans decades (even centuries).
Lucy talks about her own interest in birth starting when she was a young child and then moves through a very intense period where she was trying to find a birth control option that worked for her. When she and her partner decided to try but not try for a baby, Lucy talks about how she began the transition into potential motherhood. In addition to talking about her personal journey, Lucy also talks about the science and history of reproductive health. In her illustrations, Lucy details the positive and negative aspects(and people) surrounding medicine and midwifery. The history she added brought a necessary higher level to her own personal pregnancy story.
This book is a lovely addition to Lucy’s graphic novel repertoire. It clearly and beautifully illustrates Lucy’s journey to motherhood as well as the history of pregnancy. Check this book out whether you are on any stage of wanting kids, having kids, or avoiding kids at all cost. Let me know what you think!
If you haven’t read Lucy Knisley’s previous books, I highly recommend that you check them out:
Have you ever read a book that instantly reminded you of your life? I felt this way with Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd. I have been following Catana Comics online since they started in 2016. When I noticed that Catana was coming out with a collected book of comics, I knew I needed to read it.
Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd is all about Catana and her boyfriend John. The title of this book couldn’t be more true. As I was reading this, I was hit with all the love pouring from each comic. These moments of everyday relationships will force you to slow down and look at your life a little bit differently. It’s the tiny acts of love scattered throughout the day that have the biggest impact on the ones around you. It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day and these comics certainly illustrate that.
Catana’s round drawings and repeated expressions of love gave me an all-over good feeling as I flipped through this book. I found myself repeatedly thinking, ‘Oh that’s me!’ or ‘I do that all the time’! The seemingly instant relatability of this comic has quickly made it one of my favorites to read and one that I’m always on the look out for when I’m looking online. These collections of relatable everyday humor show readers that it’s the little moments of life that end up meaning the most.
Give this graphic novel a read and see if you can find yourself or your significant other in any of these comics. It’s a good read.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction or compulsion will likely appreciate Ink In Water and find it inspiring. Davis, described as a “young punk artist” by Library Journal, tells an autobiographical story about incredibly painful life experiences revolving around disordered eating, recovery, loss, and finally–helping others overcome similar disorders. Now a personal trainer, coach, author, and “body image advocate”, Davis’s memoir reveals how she first developed an eating disorder and got ensnared in the negative feedback loop that accompanies the psychology of self-harm.
The illustrations depicting Davis at the height (or really, rock-bottom) of her disorder show an emaciated, isolated individual who was starving herself to death. But by the end of the memoir, illustrations show a woman who has learned to cut herself some slack. In contrast, the woman in the final pages of the memoir is strong, determined, and no longer fears taking up space. To the contrary, Davis is interested in building herself up, through the practice of weight-lifting and strength training. Rather than shrinking and trying to make herself smaller, she embarks on a lifelong journey of recovery by focusing her mental and physical energy on becoming stronger.
While this graphic novel is largely about learning to love yourself, it also did a wonderful job of showing what a loving, supportive relationship can look like. I got a little teary when reading about how Davis’s partner essentially doubled-down on being loving and supportive through the hard times (rather than turning away from her when she was at her worst). When Davis experiences a particularly devastating loss of one of her best friends, mentors, and sponsors, her partner plans a trip to New York City to help her get out of her head. Their relationship beautifully demonstrates how loving partnerships allow for being openly vulnerable and loved and supported in spite of individual faults or shortcomings.
Check it out. I didn’t really even start regularly reading graphic novels until I picked up a work of graphic medicine. As someone who genuinely enjoys non-fiction (I know — crazy!), graphic memoirs have been a really nice change of pace. This book reminds me of how resilient we are, and that we can get better and come back even stronger after being in the grips of something that threatens to destroy us.
Turncoat is not your traditional superhero graphic novel. Duke is a superhero assassin. He’s the world’s worst superhero assassin, a fact that is lost on him because on every contract he is sent out on, those superheroes end up dead. He’s never the one that kills them though. His partner ends up doing the killing and Duke gets the credit. (And his partner usually ends up dead as well).
The company that Duke works with keeps pairing him up with weird loser partners and also only gives his contracts to kill D-list superheroes. Who wants to be known as the assassin who killed Bug-Boy or Freedom-Fighter?! Certainly not Duke! He just wants to kill a big name superhero, somebody from the Liberty Brigade. Duke is also battling against his ex-wife, Sharon. This battle isn’t a domestic one; Sharon is also a rival assassin who just happens to be way better at killing than Duke. She keeps stealing his contracts and his money! This bothers Duke. He just can’t win.
When a contract comes through to kill the entire Liberty Brigade, Duke first thinks it’s a mistake, but then realizes that this is the best thing that could have happened to him! He will finally have the opportunity to kill the big heroes, but also to beat his ex-wife at something. Killing the members of the Liberty Brigade will also give him the motivation and the prestige to move on from his ex-wife. Chaos ensues as Duke goes after the Liberty Brigade and realizes that there are other major players behind the scenes pulling the strings. This anti-hero graphic novel was a fantastic palette cleanser from all of the traditional Marvel and DC comic books I had been reading.
I love superheroes, but lately I’ve been burnt out on spandex superheroes in my own reading. Needing a mental reading break for myself, I scoured the new shelves looking for a hero without a leotard. I found my good ol’ hero in Huck: Book One: All-American.
Huck begins in a quiet seaside town with a large muscled man bouncing around on top of several cars on a busy interstate. He then runs exceedingly fast and dives into the ocean. He lifts heavy objects, finds what he’s looking for, and deposits it on a local woman’s doorstep. With that quick introduction, readers are left wondering who exactly that mysterious person is. That’s Huck.
Huck is a local gas station clerk who uses his special gifts every day to do a good deed for someone. Huck can find anything and anyone. Seriously. It’s one of his gifts, besides super-duper strength and general all-around awesome good guy-ness(Is that a word? I’m making it a word.) Everyone in this small town knows to keep Huck’s good deeds and gifts a secret because he needs to be protected. Seems easy, right? Nope. A new person moves into town and, of course, ruins his anonymity. With this new person blabbing his story to the media, Huck soon finds himself unwillingly famous and hounded at every turn by anyone and everyone. With this fame, people start coming out of the woodwork looking for help, to introduce him to the world, and to solve the mystery of his past. Huck naturally believes the good in all, but to the people in this small town(and to the readers), it quickly becomes obvious that his new friends may not actually be his friends and the people in danger may not really be the ones in danger. Things can actually be too good to be true.
If you want a superhero without spandex or even just a good old feel-good helping story, check out Huck by Millar and let me know what you think!