The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

I recently read the gentlest of all gentle reads. If you like beautiful art, dragons, and stories of friendship and found family, this series may be for you.

In volume one, The Tea Dragon Society, a young apprentice blacksmith named Greta encounters her first tea dragon – a miniature, domesticated dragon which grows tea leaves from its horns – and brings it back to its home. There she joins the small family devoted to the care and keeping of tea dragons: healer and teamaker Hesekiel, his partner Erik, and their recent houseguest Minette, who’s troubled by a lack of memory. Greta and Minette learn not only about tea dragons, but about friendship, craftsmanship, and how to honor ancient traditions.

In volume two, The Tea Dragon Festival, we’re seeing an episode from Hesekiel and Erik’s younger days, as they go home to Erik’s mountain village for the Tea Dragon Festival. The main character of the story is Rinn, a skilled gatherer of vegetables and herbs that grow in out-of-the-way places. One day as they’re out gathering, Rinn discovers a full-size sleeping dragon. When he wakes, the dragon Aedhan says he’s the guardian of their village, mysteriously asleep for eighty years. Rinn helps him honor the past and learn how to be a part of the village, while Erik and Hesekiel investigate the cause of Aedhan’s long sleep.

Volume three, the Tea Dragon Tapestry, is out now in our Rivershare libraries, and picks up the story of Greta and Minette as they learn about growing up. Greta is still working hard to learn blacksmithing, while trying to bond with tea dragon Ginseng – and her challenges give her lots to learn about craftsmanship and grief. Minette, meanwhile, learns more about her past, her gift of prophecy, and her future. All the while their family and friendship gives them each the support they need to find their paths forward.

For a devoted tea drinker like me, the whole concept of tea dragons was utterly charming, and the slow, unhurried pace of the story was deeply restful. I think the author also works in some good meditations on craftsmanship, progress, tradition, and friendship. If you need a healing break, read these graphic novels! While the first two volumes are available on Overdrive, I do recommend the physical copies for the full immersive experience.

Spooky Season Graphic Novels

There are so many ways to celebrate the fall season. Apple picking, hayrack rides, corn mazes, and so much more! One of my favorite past times during the fall season is to curl up and read a good horror book.  Whether it’s zombies, ghosts, monsters, or witches I want to read it all! Graphic novels are a great way to get your spooky fix this fall. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Harrow County by Cullen Bunn is full of monsters, ghosts, and drama. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

Plagued by a witch of unfathomable powers, the folk of Harrow County capture and burn her, but not before she furiously screams her revenge. Eighteen years later, we find farm girl Emmy coming of age, gifted with unnatural talents. When a spirit warns her of her impending doom at the hands of the town, she hurries off into the haunted forest, running for her life while trying to uncover her own twisted history.

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Mary Shelley, Monster Hunter by Adam Glass takes everything you think you know about Frankenstein and flips it upside down. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

For nearly two centuries, scholars have wondered how on earth Mary Shelley, a nineteen-year-old girl, was able to conjure one of the most frightening and enduring horror stories of all time: Frankenstein.

But with the recent discovery of Mary Shelley’s secret memoir, the truth is finally revealed: Mary Shelley didn’t just write Frankenstein, she lived it. Traveling back to that historic Geneva winter of 1816, Mary, her fiancé Percy, sisters Claire and Fanny, and the celebrated poet Lord Byron find themselves guests of the eerie Frankenstein Estate. The macabre and frightening events that follow lead Mary to both a gruesome and shocking discovery. Their mysterious host is not at all what they expected, and their intentions will change the course of Mary’s life forever.

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Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge takes us to a sleepy New England town where supernatural forces lurk in the woods. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

Following a night of sex, drugs and witchcraft in the woods, Eve Coffin wakes up naked, covered in blood and unable to remember how she got there. One friend is missing, one is in a mental ward–and one knows that Eve is responsible. Years later, Eve returns to Coffin Hill, only to discover the darkness that she unleashed ten years ago in the woods was never contained. It continues to seep through the town, cursing the soul of this sleepy Massachusetts hollow, spilling secrets and enacting its revenge. Set against the haunted backdrop of New England, Coffin Hill explores what people will do for power and retribution.

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Outcast by Robert Kirkman provides us with our paranormal fix in this coming of age horror. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

Kyle Barnes has not had an easy life. What appears as insanity in his family is something much darker and infinitely deeper. It originates in the bowels of hell and manifests as demonic possession. Unfortunately, it seems to be somewhat contagious, and Kyle, at least so far, is immune. A dedicated man of God, Reverend Anderson, who wrestles with his own black dreads and shadowy history, has recognized this uniqueness in Kyle and courageously endeavors to nurture this gift and stand by him. Is Kyle some sort of anomaly with the ability to salvage human souls, or just an orphaned and crazy outcast?

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Wytches by Scott Snyder dives into the realm of witchcraft and folklore in this anxiety ridden thrill ride. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

After witnessing a grisly supernatural murder, Sailor Rook, along with her father and mother, move to a small town, hoping for a fresh start. But the twisted horrors hidden in the woods have traveled with the family, and they must now uncover one another’s dark secrets to stay alive.

 

Get Graphic Series: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Have you always wanted to read a classic, but find yourself picking up the latest beach read instead? I have a solution for you! Classic adaptations is our final topic in the Get Graphic Series. I have read many classics in my life; mostly from high school and college. I find my self now that I am older, forgetting the details of them. That’s why I like classic adaptation graphic novels. They are great at refreshing my memory of the classic I read long ago- and they are much shorter!

One of my favorite classics, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, was made into a graphic novel in 2020. It follows the story of Billy Pilgrim who has come unstuck in time. Traveling from his POW camp in World War II Germany to his Lions Club Meeting years later, Billy Pilgrim has no control over where he ends up next. And then in 1967, Billy Pilgrim travels to the alien world Tralfamadore. This is where he learns about time and how time “simply is.”

Ryan North and Albert Monteys create a Slaughterhouse-Five universe. They give faces and backstories to Vonnegut’s characters. They add timelines and comic strip like panels to give life to the numerous settings. This classic adaptation is never boring with the way North and Monteys portray it.

Several classics have been made into graphic novels. Here are a few we own at the library if Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t your first choice: 1984 by George Orwell, Anne Frank’s Diary by Ari Folman, Kindred by Damian Duffy, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or The Great Gatsby by Fred Fordham.

So it goes.

Get Graphic Series: Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong

The Get Graphic Series continues with a memoir by Vivian Chong. Dancing after TEN  tells the story of how Chong suffered a severe medical reaction which caused her to lose her eyesight.

It begins with an island vacation Chong takes with her current boyfriend and his family. A couple days into the vacation, Chong becomes ill. She takes ibuprofen in hopes of relieving some symptoms, but they become worse. Chong is then airlifted from their tropical paradise to Canada. The doctor’s discover Chong is suffering from TEN (toxic epidermal necrolysis). As her condition worsens, the doctor’s place her in a medically induced coma. When Chong wakes up, her life is changed forever.

After undergoing a cornea operation, Chong begins to draw her memoir. She invites the help of fellow artist, Georgia Webber, to fill in after Chong begins to lose her eyesight again. Throughout the novel, the reader can see the difference between Chong and Webber’s illustrations. You can see and feel the vulnerability Chong had while struggling to draw. Her illustrations coexist with Webber’s creating a beautifully told narrative.

Memoirs and biographies are similar in way they tell the life story of a person. What I love about memoirs more than biographies, is the author relies heavily on the emotional factors of their life. Dancing after TEN offers us the facts, but Chong also provides us with emotional dialogue. She shares with us her breakups, her physical insecurities, her worries about the future, and more.

Dancing after TEN  is a great example of how someone can experience a tragedy, but can come out dancing in the end.

 

Get Graphic Series: Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau

Up next in our Get Graphic Series is a non fiction title by Fabien Grolleau. Audubon: On the Wings of the World, takes the reader on a journey through 19th century rural America. John James Audubon was an ornithologist with a goal to create a pictorial record of the all the birds in North America. Traveling with only his drawing materials, an assistant and a gun, Audubon encounters dangerous animals, wild storms, and some not so friendly people.

Audubon: On the Wings of the World highlights not only the beauty of birds in America, but how Audubon’s life revolves around them. As he travels the US, he meets with prominent scientists in the hopes of publishing his book of bird paintings. But, the scientist believe his paintings are more “artistic” than “scientific”- which is something Audubon does not want to hear. This fuels his desire to prove the scientists wrong. He soon becomes obsessed with painting the animals and begins to disregard his family, friends, and even his health. An unlikely stranger meets with Audubon and pulls him from his fascination, changing the course of his career and life forever.

One of the things I love about nonfiction graphic novels is the chance to learn about something or someone I would have glanced over in the biography section. I wouldn’t have picked up a 300 page biography on John James Audubon, but Audubon: On the Wings of the World was just long enough to give me the facts and keep me engaged. Graphic novels are great starting points if you find yourself interested in a nonfiction topic.

Illustrations are key for nonfiction graphic novels. Some might find nonfiction “boring,” but the illustrations create a fun environment for the facts to live. Audubon: On the Wings of the World has wonderful illustrations of not only the story, but of the birds Audubon loved.

If you want to learn more about John James Audubon, give this graphic novel a try!

 

 

A Fire Story by Brian Fies

How do you cope with trauma? How are you dealing with the news? I tend to search out books as a way to help cope. Since August 2020, the news has been broadcasting stories about fires all over the West Coast: California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, among others. It’s hard for me to grasp the severity of a situation over the news, so I always seek out other sources of knowledge: informational studies, interviews, books, magazine articles, etc. In an effort to learn more, I went searching in the library for information about California wildfires.

Wanting to read a firsthand account, I found A Fire Story by Brian Fies, an author and illustrator whose home was destroyed by a wildfire in 2017.

This graphic novel began as a webcomic right after Brian, his wife, and their two pets evacuated their California home in the early morning on October 9, 2017 due to a massive wildfire. These wildfires burned through Northern California, eventually resulting in 44 fatalities and the complete destruction of 8,900 structures, including 6,200 homes. When Brian and his family evacuated, they didn’t think they would be gone for long, so they only grabbed a few items. In the days that followed their evacuation, Brian bought what art supplies he could find and started to draw an online comic that would become viral and turn into the full-length graphic novel, A Fire Story

In addition to focusing on what happened to Brian and his family, this graphic novel also talks about environmental factors that played into the fire, as well as helping readers gain a better understanding of how this disaster occurred. Brian also portrays the stories of others that were affected by this disaster.

While this story by no means gave me a full and complete understanding of wildfires, it helped me discover terminology and location information that has helped me learn more about the current wildfires happening on the West Coast. This graphic novel has provided me with a starting point to learn more, as well as a look at a firsthand account of the devastation these fires had on residents.

Dial H for Hero (volume 1) by Sam Humphries

Vacation goes from boring to thrilling with the not-so-simple ring of the phone in Dial H for Hero by Sam Humphries.

Our story begins with young Miguel Montez being rescued by Superman after a swimming pool accident. He spends the rest of his childhood chasing the adrenaline rush, which makes his teen years working in his uncle’s mayonnaise-themed food truck a real drag. In the mist of a dirt bike stunt, Miguel stumbles across a new way to save himself — dial H on the rotary phone falling next to him.

Fellow adrenaline junkie Summer soon joins Miguel — in a stolen food truck, no less — in chasing the rush of being a superhero for one hour every time the H-Dial is activated. Hot on their heels are villains and fellow civilians alike, all wanting to play the superhero fantasy. The catch is, no one has any control over what type of superhero they’ll turn into. Sometimes they are save-the-day archetypes such as Monster Truck or Lo Lo Kick You. Other times, they spend the hour as comically bad superheros, such as  Summer becoming Chimp Change, a pistol-toting, fishnet stocking and high heel clad chimpanzee. Miguel is transformed into “Lil’ Miguelito,” a character reminiscent of a Family Circus cartoon.

Miguel and Summer quickly find themselves in over their heads and they take on a new mission: Get the H-Dial back to the one hero they trust — Superman!

Dial H for Hero volumes 1 and 2 are available now through the Davenport Public Library.

Bix by Scott Chantler

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.

Harleen by Stjepan Sejic

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.

Wytches by Scott Snyder

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!