Category Archives: Young Adult

Comics Review: Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

The comics I’m enjoying the most lately are coming from Insight Comics. Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News is a perfect example of their fresh and engaging content. This is an action adventure featuring 14-year-old Sophie Cooper, a red-headed Cuban-American, high school freshman.

There are quite a lot of specifics here which add up to a story with unique depth and dimension. Sophie’s dad, the kind and responsible type, has been framed and placed under house arrest for embezzlement and money laundering. It is up to Sophie to prove her father’s innocence which leads her to become an intern at a local news station. One thing leads to another, and Sophie is piecing together Cuban history that is somehow connected to some pretty crazy secret lab experiments. I can see why this is just the first volume!

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

A growing trend for comics publishers is to feature more diverse main characters. Within the last few years, leading the way has been the character of teenage Kamala Khan, Marvel Comics’ first Muslim character to headline her own comic book, Ms. Marvel, which debuted in February 2014. Another compelling title, in the same spirit, is the soon to be released limited series, She Could Fly, featuring Luna, a 15-year-old hispanic high school sophomore, from the Dark Horse Comics imprint, Berger Books. This brings us to Sophie Cooper.

With Sophie Cooper, writer Richard Hamilton (Dragons: Race to the Edge) gives the reader yet another authentic voice. And artist Joseph Cooper (Marvel, DC, Valiant, Dynamite, and Image) proves to be an excellent collaborator. Rounding out the creative team are colorists Peter Pantazis and Alba Cardona. Some of the best comics are the result of a finely-structured collaborative process. That is certainly the case here right down to the details in production. This is a book that is a pleasure to read and behold.

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News

Getting back to specifics, this comic will keep the reader engaged with various added touches. As explained in the afterword, nothing was left to chance. Pantazis and Cardona were careful to find just the right skin tones and just the right shade of firebrand red for Sophie’s hair. When it comes to evoking a sense of urgency and distress, Joe Cooper was sure to depict Sophie’s cracked cell phone and chewed fingernails. And, in story that includes UFOs and alligator-men, Richard Hamilton deftly adds various historical references including the 1953 attack of the Moncada Barracks that ignited the Cuban Revolution.

The unlikely team of Hal Ritz and Sophie Cooper.

In the course of this first volume, we follow Sophie as she navigates her way as an intern for a news station that is not exactly ready for prime time. Sophie discovers she has a nose for news and ends up helping the station’s veteran reporter, Hal Ritz, who shamelessly takes credit for an implausible lineup of journalistic achievements. But Hal is no fool either and readily spots Sophie as a rising talent and someone to keep an eye on. This unlikely team will need all the help they can get as they quickly find themselves well over their heads.

The Devil is in the Details.

Paranormal mystery meets conspiracy thriller in this action-packed comic for young adults. This has a fresh and original kick to it.

Scoop, Vol. 1: Breaking News is a 96-page full color trade paperback available as of June 19, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Comics.

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Filed under Comics, Cuba, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Insight Comics, Insight Editions, mystery, Paranormal, Supernatural, Thriller, Young Adult

Book Review: ‘The Wild Inside’ by Jamey Bradbury

“The Wild Inside” by Jamey Bradbury

Jamey Bradbury’s “The Wild Inside” is a ferocious debut novel! It’s about the mysteries of young womanhood, Mother Nature, and just how far apart we humans are from animals. Our main character, Tracey Petrikoff, is sure she is not quite human and far more animal. Ms. Bradbury has had the great John Irving as a mentor and it shows. This is a novel by a hungry and driven writer.

Tracey Petrikoff is a monster of sorts–but not in any obvious way. Trace is the ultimate misfit teenager in this most unusual work. Bradbury has crafted a slow-burn thriller that invites the reader to join a family of dog breeders and racers in the backwoods of Alaska and, bit by bit, reveals touch after touch of strange. There is no doubt that Trace is strange. Bradbury does a masterful job of normalizing it. In a first-person narrative, the reader is charmed by, and at the mercy of, Trace’s version of events. In a matter-of-fact manner, Trace repeatedly shares with the reader her drinking the blood of animals. What could be more natural, right?

Blood is all too natural for Trace. She can’t be far from a “drink” for too long. Some things seem utterly unknowable by outsiders: like the heart of a young woman, and Mother Nature. Bradbury plays with how these two powerful forces are inextricably linked. Trace’s bond with nature, with the animal world, is total and complete. She must nurse from the blood of animals not only to feel alive but to remain alive. In one key scene, her need for blood is so great that, when she struggles to find some, she resorts to drinking her own menstrual blood. This cross between Judy Blume and Stephen King totally works within context.

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Bradbury provides a mesmerizing first-person narrative: very direct and urgent while completely down to earth. Bradbury keeps it all deceiving effortless and casual, doing away with any and all quotation marks. This has a funny way of further immersing the reader who follows along, for example, an observation by Trace that seamlessly dovetails to something her father is saying. A series of small moments steadily add up in this wonderfully structured novel. All the time, the reader is anticipating a big race–and the Iditarod is certainly no small event–but there are plenty of twists and turns, including a creepy and potentially dangerous stalker and an unlikely lover. What cannot help but keep the reader engaged is following the mind of Tracey Petrikoff, half-woman and half-animal, trapped for a time and waiting to be set free.

Bradbury mines the coming-of-age tropes with great success. In that special time of transition from childhood to adulthood, there is a lot of soul-searching and negotiating over what stays and what goes. What matters most in your life? And, by the way, did you realize it is your own life–and no one else’s but yours? Sometimes freedom is more important than anything else in the world–including the life you have always known just before everything changes.

“The Wild Inside,” by Jamey Bradbury is a 304-page hardcover, published by William Morrow, now available. For more details, visit William Morrow right here. You can order this book from Amazon by clicking the image below:

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Kickstarter: LEMONADE SUMMER, LGBTQ Comics (Ends April 7)

LEMONADE SUMMER by Gabi Mendez

“THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT KIDS AND GROWING UP, AND THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT THE LGBT EXPERIENCE; BUT THE TWO DON’T OFTEN INTERSECT IN A POSITIVE WAY. LGBT ISSUES AREN’T JUST ADULT ISSUES! MY STORIES ARE FOR ALL AGES: POSITIVE STORIES OF KIDS AND YOUNG ADULTS NAVIGATING LIFE AND HELPING EACH OTHER WHILE NOT IGNORING THEIR IDENTITIES AS TRANSGENDER, BISEXUAL, NON-BINARY, LESBIAN, AND MORE.” – GABI MENDEZ, AUTHOR

A Kickstarter campaign is running now and ending on April 7th in support of Lemonade Summer by Gabi Mendez. This is an all-ages graphic novel about queer children, adolescents, teens and young adults coming of age in positive environments and finding supportive communities. The book is 136 pages with full color covers and chapter covers. Each story is a monochromatic color scheme mirroring the sun from noon to dusk, reflecting the characters’ growth in the book. The stories feature young, queer characters who grapple with the conflicts of their own worlds.

Page From “Strays”

“In the summer of our dreams, young pirate runaways learn to accept each other regardless of gender presentation. The new girl in town finds solidarity in female friendship. A roller derby unexpectedly lights the spark of a first-time crush. Friends find confidence in their own voice, and teens face the uncertainty of growing up.”
— Gabi Mendez

Kickstarter Goal: $15,000 currently funded at 40%
Kickstarter Ends: April 7
Support this Kickstarter campaign right HERE.

“We chose to crowd-fund this project to allow us to donate copies to schools, libraries, youth centers and other organizations that would not normally be able to access this book. Currently, our backers will allow us to donate 65 copies.”
— Gabi Mendez

This book is part of Cow House Press. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crowdfunding, Gay, graphic novels, Kickstarter, LGBT, LGBTQ, Queer, Young Adult, Youth

Comics Review: SHAKE THE LAKE

Trouble in Paradise

“Shake The Lake” is such an audacious work of comics with such an uninhibited and unflinching depiction of frenzied youth–it is truly a hell of a lot of fun and mesmerizing. These are a bunch of out-of-control kids, the sort you’ve seen in numerous teenploitation horror and summer movies. They all, at first, seem to lack any redeeming character but you get hooked into their little nefarious activities and you just can’t look away. But who ever heard of a graphic novel devoted to wakeboarding (think skateboarding on water)? Am I supposed to know about wakeboarding? That level of specificity is part of the subversive fun. You need to check out this wonderfully oddball badass series right here.

Cal in his element. It’s an endless summer, dude!

Of course, wakeboarding is important–especially for those in the wakeboarding scene, which all of these kids are totally into. And some people are fully aware of wakeboarding but to the other extreme like Zeke and Dalton, these two highly obnoxious park rangers hot on the trail of all fun-loving youth. Leave it to them and they will spoil everyone’s fun, particularly anything remotely hedonistic. Hey, it’s the summer and a bunch of young rebels are determined to make their mark. Cal is the lead instigator. He’s already 23, but it is still a life of beautiful teen summers for him and his fellow dreamers. If they could just stir things up at the ole marina, put on a wakeboarding festival to be remembered in their collective old age, then all this arrested development will have been worth it!

Party!

Brothers Zach and Machi Block’s script rings true. The Block brothers invest in their ragtag characters a level of integrity that lures you into wanting to know more about this subculture. The artwork by brother and sister team Diego and Andrea Lopez Mata are true to the Block vision bringing out all the crude and raw beauty of this motley crew of wakeboarding fanatics. If you go in not knowing a thing about wakeboarding, after reading this work, you’ll be glad to leave it to the experts and just enjoy the ride. Visit the “Shake The Lake” site right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Lifestyle, Sports, Young Adult, Youth, Youth Culture

Review: METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Alden Baylor.

The ideal graphic novel expresses one elegant theme over the span of about 100 pages and leaves the reader invigorated. METEOR MEN is such an example. Boy meets space alien. This is a story that turns that trope on its head over the course of a mix of realism and the supernatural. Jeff Parker (Batman ’66, Future Quest) writes a script with his distinctive quirky worldview. Sandy Jarrell (Batman ’66, Unfair) provides artwork that responds right back to Parker’s offbeat style. And Kevin Volo (Rex Zombie Killer, Max & Thorne) provides colors in step with this moody, enigmatic, and totally riveting tale.

Panel excerpt from METEOR MEN

If and when the aliens do descend from the skies, they won’t be anything like in the movies. They will be something totally out of the realm of our experience. That is a key point in any number of sci-fi tales. And that doesn’t stop Parker, like the seasoned pro that he is, from going in there and telling us his version. So, we begin with Alden Baylor, a teenager who already has much on his mind prior to any alien invasion. The kid is sitting pretty on an estate he’s inherited. Alden’s parents died in a car crash and his uncle is his guardian. So, Alden makes for an ideal young princely sort, complete with a common touch, not fully aware of his high station in life. He’s sensitive and gentle and will prove to make a great representative for us humans.

Page excerpt from METEOR MEN

We come to see that an alien race has descended all over Earth via a meteor shower. Among all the potential human connections that could have been made everywhere from Moscow to Timbuktu, the only one that takes hold is the one between Alden and the space creature that crash landed on his property. Alden’s alien friend is melancholy and mysterious. But, push comes to shove, and this guy is potentially dangerous–all for the sake of protecting Alden. Deeper into our tale, Alden learns far more than he ever imagined he would ever know not only about extraterrestrial life but about the very essence of existence.

Among alt-comics, there are basically two fronts: the more low-key comics that rely upon a niche audience; and the more vibrant comics that reach out to a wider readership. METEOR MAN is a vibrant comic. Of course, the hope is that any truly worthwhile comic finds readers even if it is essentially a labor of love. I see METEOR MAN as one of those “labor of love” projects that catches on with casual as well as seasoned readers of comics. Word of mouth has boosted its visibility and it has received good press, including a glowing review from WIRED MAGAZINE. I’m happy to add my praise.

METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

METEOR MAN is a 128-page full cover trade paperback. For more details, visit Oni Press right here. Order it through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jeff Parker, Oni Press, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Young Adult

Interview: Jennifer Daydreamer: Comics and Beyond

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer has been published by Top Shelf Productions and regularly contributed illustrations to the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, in the late ’90s. In the course of a creative life, Daydreamer has seen her path take an interesting trajectory. I share with you now a conversation with artist and writer Jennifer Daydreamer on her new project, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe.” A Kickstarter campaign in support of a print run to the book is going on now thru August 28th. You can find it right here. She is the author. Full disclosure, I’m the illustrator for the book, and I contributed to the story. And she’s my partner.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin, Jen. We can jump in to the very beginning of the Mack Stuckey project.

JENNIFER DAYDREAMER: You certainly did contribute to the prose. There are details in Mack, plot points, character names and so forth, that you came up with. We are both illustrators but you were the instant choice of illustrator. Although I can draw fast, I don’t normally paint in quick thick brush strokes, the kind you do, and so I was excited about a real artistic collaboration with you. Probably our first. I think after you’ve been blogging for ten years, this has been the first time you have interviewed me. So, thanks!

What was the impetus to writing Mack Stuckey?

Well, before 2008, I could score a job pretty easily. I’m a creative type but I have a detailed part of my brain that does well with accounting. I actually enjoy accounting because I find it meditative and so for most of my career I have been able to do accounting work for my jobs. I was in a series of job layoffs. One, the company went out of business, the next, the company transferred my position out of state, another one I was a new hire and when they do layoffs, the new hires usually get cut first. In a nutshell, the book is about the economy and expressing my frustration about it, in a creative way. I just don’t want to spend my time venting at this point. I have expressed my employment dilemmas to my friends over the years. At this point, I’d rather be joking.

Illustration for "Mack Stuckey" by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration for “Mack Stuckey” by Henry Chamberlain

Jennifer Daydreamer quote

Where does it take place?

It takes place in Seattle. Poor Seattle. The inspiration to write the book is my need to express myself in regards to the economy and state of housing and living in our city with a disappearing middle class. The story takes place in 2014, by the way, and so, any uptick of the economy happening today, I hope is really happening. I digress. Seattle happens to be the fall guy, the theatrical back drop of the story and so, we make fun of Seattle. Specifically, Fremont. We venture into Ballard, Downtown, and the U District.

How so?

For one thing, I create a feud between Ballard and Fremont, either real or imagined. I examine the tension that I think exists between the two locales because when you want to buy something practical in Fremont, like pens and a pad of paper there is only one or two small places to go. There are no standard drug stores allowed in Fremont (I think from building codes) so you have to take your car or the bus or your bike and dip into Ballard for practical needs.

What else is the book about?

Well, we describe the book succinctly on our Kickstarter page! Basically, I created a love triangle between a woman and two men, representing the upper, middle, and lower classes. I don’t come right out and say that in the book, because that would be too explicit, but that is one of the themes. I think there is something for everyone in the book, if you like humor, a sexy romance, or interest in the local icons. I try my hand at what I call comedic erotica.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the last few years.

After drawing comics, I was inspired to write a screenplay because that imprint, what was it called?

Minx.

Yes, Minx, from DC Comics, asked me for some ideas. They cancelled the imprint. One of my ideas was for a dystopian novel about the separation between a guy and a girl and killing in the army, that someday I should write. They really did not like it, too macabre, and then Hunger Games comes out later. I remember believing them at the time that the story pitch is not good, so its a reminder to believe in myself. I wrote the screenplay for the humor submission that they did like. Then Minx was cancelled. I never had a contract, just a “that’s funny, I like that one.” So, I spent about a year studying how to write a screenplay and it took me about 1.8 to finish it, because it was my first screenplay.

Where did that leave you?

With one foot halfway in the door! It left me with one manager who switched companies and his job position and so he could not represent it. Then I found an agent who read it, she is known in the industry and so I felt lucky. She was encouraging. She said I needed edits and she gave me her manager contact and said to try and do edits with him and then resubmit it to her. But her manager nixed it. By the way, I respected how he communicated with me, as he got to it, read the script promptly and let me know his opinion. Everyone I submitted it to over a year’s time or so, was very nice, frankly. I know there is crap that happens in Hollywood, but, somehow, I felt encouraged by people in the business I was in contact with. Most did not have room or time to read it and some commented that my pitch was great and so to keep at it. So, I got my foot in the Hollywood door about an eigth of the way. A toe.

Interesting visual, one toe clinging to a door. But, seriously, it put you in an interesting situation. You were in the thick of transitioning from comics, moving beyond comics.

It was fun to try. I felt a cartoonist could get a foot in the door because comic book movies were taking off. I had an agent/lawyer to make some pathway, also, when I submitted, so I was not completely unprofessional and just cold called everyone. I think the writing contributed to writing Mack – the more you create the better you get. Mack has taken 2.5 years to write and I still have some details I want to round it out with. Its basically done. Besides those projects, I have spent a lot of time writing and sketching out a four book Young Adult Fantasy Series which I am eager to launch on social media. For this YA series, I really think a book agent, editor or editors and publishing company is necessary. You need help to keep detail accurate when you are world building.

After Mack, I have one very odd book, I have to get off my chest, then I will launch my YA series. I have spent a year on it. Its not complicated like writing a story but I am scared of publishing it, and so, I have to publish it. I’m scared as I have to dip into some religious and societal explanations. I had an out of body experience or an altered state from drawing my mini comics long ago and it was not until recently when I studied Jung in detail and some Jungian psychologists that I realized there is a biological explanation or a science explanation for it.

Lots of room to dig deeper.

Usually the explanation in our society, is something spiritual or “occult” and so I am eager to lay out my idea to disprove the occult notions, that there may be a more reasonable or logic based explanation. I have not completely ruled out a spiritual component. I think there is a spiritual component, I understand the shamanic explanation for something like that, but I think there is a middle ground, because the explanations from psychologists are so clear and sound. There’s compelling commentary by Oliver Sacks on YouTube (13.45). Maybe you can link the video for our cartoonist friends because it’s interesting if you draw comics.

Yes, consider it done. It will run right below these comments.

Great!

What Oliver Sacks has to say I am relating to my experience in the book. I think the brain is activated because of the archetypal nature of comics. What archetypal nature is, should be explained more but there is not room in this intervew to go into that kind of detail.

“There is another part of the brain which is especially activated when one sees cartoons. It’s activated when one recognizes cartoons when one draws cartoons and when one hallucinates them. It’s very interesting that that should be (so) specific.”

–Oliver Sacks

Are you still drawing comics? Where would you say you are today in relation to comics?

I love comics. I am following my heart and my heart wants my YA series to be prose – just words – and my illustrations. And so, no, its not comics. I would like to draw comics and be in anthologies, but there is no time at the moment. I am really focused on the projects listed above. I have the door open on comics, the door is not closed. Same with, you know, doing another humor book like Mack. When I was in high school I was the kid that made fun of all the teachers and drew riffs on them and passed them to my friends in class. I have a humor side and I have the side that loves to create long fantasy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One last word. We make fun of some drug usage in Mack but I don’t do drugs. I am a very very square cat when it comes to things like that. It’s important for me to be clear on this because I don’t like my out of body experiences nor my illustrations to be accused of being “drug influenced.” Because I think fantasy story and art is related to healing and I want to contribute to that. I want to explore more in the future on the connection to drawing comics and naturally based hallucinations.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Thank you, Henry!

Be sure to visit Mack Stuckey right here. To go directly to the Kickstarter campaign on thru 8/28, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Humor, Interviews, Jennifer Daydreamer, Kickstarter, Satire, Seattle, writers, writing, Young Adult

Review: Girl Over Paris #1 (of 4) (The Cirque American Series)

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni is a celebrity tightrope walker connected to the supernatural in the latest comic from Amazon’s Jet City Comics. I love a good story with complications. Part of the fun of reading a comic that is hinting at something spooky around the corner is how it creates its trail of breadcrumbs. “Girl Over Paris” sets the tone for a spooky adventure with style and joie de vivre.

Part of Gwenda Bond’s CIRQUE AMERICAN universe, this story, written by Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Adventure Time: Seeing Red), follows Jules and the gang as they fly from the U.S. to France in order to perform at a big event and allow Jules to regain her stature after a long hiatus. Artwork by Ming Doyle (The Kitchen, Constantine: The Hellblazer) and colors by Andrew Dalhouse enhance the pixie-romantic quality to this tale.

Reading "Girl Over Paris #1"

Reading “Girl Over Paris #1”

There’s a lot of luscious detail to this comic that sets it apart. I like the gentle pace too. Ms. Leth does a wonderful job of allowing us into the innermost thoughts of Jules: she is making a comeback, opening up to her new boyfriend, and confronting a supernatural entity. That’s quite a lot for a first issue.

Girl Over Paris #1 (The Cirque American Series) is available as of July 6, 2016. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Adventure, Amazon, Amazon Publishing, Comics, Comics Reviews, France, Gwenda Bond, Jet City Comics, Paris, Young Adult

Book Review: JANE TWO by Sean Patrick Flanery

JANE-TWO-SeanPatrickFlaneryjpg

“Jane Two,” a novel by Sean Patrick Flanery, is a quirky coming-of-age story with a zest for life that you’ll find contagious. Our main character, Mickey, never got over his first true love back in childhood. But, as he sees it, that is not tragic at all. His childhood experience has made him the man he was destined to be. With that in mind, Flanery makes the most of giving Mickey plenty of life lessons, some pretty outlandish but all quite entertaining.

Sean Patrick Flanery (photo credit John Schell)

Sean Patrick Flanery (photo credit John Schell)

There are numerous examples of excellent coming-of-age stories. I love all types, everything from Philip Roth’s novel, “Goodbye, Columbus,” to the classic TV series, “The Wonder Years.” I think Flanery’s work falls somewhere in the middle: fun and highly entertaining but also reaching to literary heights. Flanery is so insistent upon turning the young Jane, the object of Mickey’s infatuation, into a large-than-life force of nature that, at times, he elevates his writing to magic realism. It is a natural inclination. I have felt it in my own writing. But then you need to deliver and Flanery does.

There isn’t a familiar trope that Flanery is not ready to make his own. For instance, Mickey writes numerous love letters to Jane but he mails them to a pretend address. In his youthful logic, he believes that, if his notes were meant to reach his love, the postman will have figured out where to deliver them. It is a small Texas town, after all, maybe the postman could be bothered to be part-time matchmaker between the football player and the hippie painter with flowers in her hair.

Flanery’s most endearing contribution to the genre is Mickey’s grandfather who proves to be an endless source of wisdom. But, more than that, given his special stature in the community, this is a hero, role model, and mystic all rolled into one. A beloved retired deputy sheriff from Lake Charles, Louisiana could be nothing less than that. So, Mickey is definitely in good hands with his grandpa. There’s also grandma, and both parents, to count on. The only drawback is Mickey’s sister who harbors a serious dark side.

An important thing growing up in a small Texas town, some might say the only thing that matters, is football. Lucky for Mickey, he takes to it exceptionally well. It is there for him to help prove his manhood and sees him into adulthood. A child, boy or girl, is constantly searching and testing. For Mickey, the arena is a neighbor’s lawn and then a high school stadium. Grandpa is there to keep Mickey focused. He does this along with some other colorful characters who bring to mind the tough but sometimes shortsighted guys in Mike Judge’s animated series, “King of the Hill.” Ultimately, it is Grandpa who comes back to talk some sense and remind everyone that life is short and one best get on with it.

Like I say, Flanery is mindful of coming up with some doozies of his own for the young love genre. As the cover suggests, there is something unusual going on that might turn out to be pretty symbolic. And, sure enough, Flanery creates quite a memorable set of scenes involving a pair of sneakers strung up a flag pole. For one thing, it is not nearly as simple as it may look. By the time we are deep into what is going on, we know we’re reading something that is going to stick with us and we will return to. Just the right frame of mind to be in for such a story of everlasting love.

“Jane Two” is a 304-page hardcover, audio book, and e-book, published by Center Street, written by accomplished actor, director, and writer Sean Patrick Flanery, available as of April 5, 2016. For more details, visit Center Street right here.

And be sure to check out the official JANE TWO website right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Sean Patrick Flanery, writers, writing, Young Adult, Youth

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Will & Whit’ by Laura Lee Gulledge

Will-Whit-Laura-Lee-Gulledge

Do you think it’s hard to find comics that you can relate to on a human scale? Hopefully, that’s not the case but, for a lot of readers out there, it may seem confusing. Well, the comics medium offers such a vast and wide assortment of possibilities. Consider the story of Wilhelmina Huckstep, “Will” for short, who is a talented and beautiful young woman who has one Achilles’ heel. She’s sort of afraid of her own shadow. More specifically, she’s afraid of the dark.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Young Adult, Youth Culture

Review: BOXERS & SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang, published by First Second

Boxers-Saints-Gene-Luen-Yang

Like a lightning strike, Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel, “Boxers & Saints,” is charged with energy. It is pure comics in the sense that it is immersive, dynamic, and holds you with a powerfully consistent pace. Much in the way that Jeff Smith’s comics command the page, you enter a very animated and colorful world when you read the work of Gene Luen Yang. And speaking of colors, Lark Pien provides a palette with an artist’s sensitivity. This is a most remarkable hero’s journey that, at once, is familiar and quite different and specific.

This is a story about China being thrown into the modern age with all its bloody consequences. It is told in two volumes. The first volume is the main story focusing on the Boxer Rebellion as seen from the vantage point of a rebel leader, Little Bao. The second volume is a look at those Chinese citizens who accepted the Christian faith as seen from the vantage point of an average young woman with grand aspirations, Vibiana. You can place both books facing up and you have half a portrait of Bao and half a portrait of Vibiana that together provide a full picture to a complex story. These two characters never get to know each other. Their lives only briefly touch. The reader gets to see how they connect in a profound way.

Boxers-Saints-Gene-Yang-graphic-novel-2013

“Boxers & Saints” takes graphic novels to a new level. It’s that good. While we hear endless theorizing on the potential of the comics medium and what has yet to be surveyed in this new art frontier, here we have a work that is grounded in the best comics tradition of precision and consistency and, as a bonus, seems to effortlessly break new ground. You have two stories, of different scope yet equal in their impact. They can be read separately but, together, prove to be a powerful whole. This is something of a first: two volumes, one ostensibly the main story at 325 pages; and the second volume that fills in some essential gaps as a parallel story. And, at 170 pages, it carries a similar impact as the first volume. I have not seen anything quite like this before. Maybe you have. But at such an exceptional level? No, I don’t think so.

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) is the focus here. And while this is also a story of self-discovery, it is very much a valuable, and highly accessible, history lesson. Take a look at the Boxer Rebellion and you get a deeper sense of the heart and soul of China and where it’s coming from today. If not for this event, the superpowers of that time, on a path to take over China, would have had no motivation to pause and control their urge to plunder. Considering such a volatile topic, Yang manages to immerse himself in the subject and pluck out gems of wisdom.

A French political cartoon depicting China as a pie about to be carved up by Queen Victoria (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany), Tsar Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne (France) and a samurai (Japan), while a Chinese mandarin helplessly looks on. (Wikipedia)

A French political cartoon depicting China as a pie about to be carved up by Queen Victoria (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany), Tsar Nicholas II (Russia), Marianne (France) and a samurai (Japan), while a Chinese mandarin helplessly looks on. (Wikipedia)

The way Yang sees it, there’s something to be said for the Boxer rebels mirroring today’s geek culture. The Boxer youth learned about the Chinese gods through opera, which was the pop culture of the day. That is precisely what we see our main character, Little Bao, wrapped up in. He loves opera! He can’t read or write and is essentially ignorant, like all his peers in the village he lives in. However, he has a window into culture and the rest of the world. It is through regular viewing of these popular street performances that he learns about Chinese gods, much in the same way that comic books provide a window into the world of myth. And it is this passion that leads Little Bao to want to be like his heroes, similar to the passion demonstrated by today’s cosplay.

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It’s that deep love of Chinese gods that gives Little Bao his sense of identity and the inner strength to fight for his country as a Boxer rebel leader against the “foreign devils” with their various interests and agendas. Christian indoctrination is the key point of conflict.

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But things are never that simple. Once you’ve seen one imperialist, you’ve seen them all, but Yang asks the reader to consider another point of view. While any Chinese citizen who embraces the Westerner’s Christianity is looked upon by the Boxers as nothing but disloyal to the people’s cause, we read the story of one Chinese girl’s Christian faith in volume two. With as much sincerity as Little Bao, the girl only known as Four Girl finds her place in life. It’s not with her abusive family. It’s among the Christians. She joins the faith and becomes Vibiana.

There’s a fleeting moment early in volume one when Little Bao sees this girl and instantly senses some connection. He spots her while she is making a devilish grimace of her face. He has no idea what it all means and concludes that he is destined to see her again. It is one of many perfectly timed moments in this book. What Yang does to briefly connect these two precious lives coming from opposite ends is magical and powerful. Together, Little Bao and Vibiana provide us with a whole story, a face to China, and a window for the reader.

Below is a quick video recap:

“Boxers & Saints” is a two volume set published by First Second which you can visit here. And also be sure to visit Gene Luen Yang at his website here.

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