Tag Archives: Family

Book Review: THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK

Jonathan Santlofer is a successful artist and novelist. I had the privilege of hearing him read recently as he shared the stage with two other distinguished writers, Neal Thompson and Wendy C. Ortiz, at a panel on memoir writing at Hugo House in Seattle. Later, in person, I asked Mr. Santlofer if he ever considered doing a graphic novel, given his facility with words and images, and he said he’d love to do it! He’s on my radar right now. His book, The Widower’s Notebook, is quite a page-turner. I went to the Tin Table for a late dinner and couldn’t put it down. The waitress even said I could stay as long as I wanted. After making some time for the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, I kept reading the next day and finished in another sitting. What I got from this book is a riveting narrative covering a heart-wrenching time in the author’s life.

Mr. Santlofer has an uncanny observational style: you believe you’re with him. His writing is vivid and carries you along even when he’s writing about not feeling up to doing anything at all. It’s the mark of not only a good writer but an excellent writer to allow you into a life without you being aware of any of the effort involved. This is a story of a most significant loss, the death of one’s life partner. Santlofer achieves a level of the sublime by simply being in the moment. He does with his writing what he does with his drawings: evoke a sense of the hyperreal. You are really there with the author as he finds his wife, Joy, dying before his eyes, the subsequent rush to the hospital, and the frenetic tripping through memories.

We follow along as Santlofer reflects upon a grand life beginning with a young bohemian couple, just married, in Brooklyn, circa 1967. We progress in a stream of consciousness fashion from the birth of Dorie, his beloved daughter, to the recent death of Joy to the building up of a new life. The act of drawing helps with the act of mourning–drawings work when words seem to fail or seem to be not enough. There’s a touch of magic to art-making and it seems most explicit when examining an intimate and intricately crafted drawing. The excerpt below speaks to this process:

“I am able to draw my wife because drawing is abstract, because you can’t really draw something until you stop identifying it. You can’t think: this is an eye, or a nose, or lips, or you will not be able to draw them; an eye, a nose, lips are all the same, simply marks on a page.

Drawing has made it possible for me to stay close to Joy when she in no longer here. It is a way to create a picture of her without feeling weird or maudlin. I am not sitting in a dark room crying over a photo of my dead wife; I am at my drawing table, working.

Grief is chaotic; art is order. Ironic, as most people think art is all about feeling and emotion, when in fact the artist needs to be ordered and conscious to create art that will, in turn, stir feelings and emotion in others.”

A drawing is a complicated thing.

Santlofer’s book is about dying and about living. It is as much about mourning as it is about relationships, family, and the creative process. Indeed, art can save your life and Santlofer’s book eloquently and passionately speaks to perseverance and purpose.

The Widower’s Notebook is a 272-page paperback with illustrations, published by Penguin Random House.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Death, Death and Dying, Hugo House, Jonathan Santlofer, Memoir, New York City, Penguin Random House, Seattle, writers, writing

Comics Review: A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

James Burns is a very interesting cartoonist. It was a pleasure last year to review his work. A Life Half-Forgotten is an impressive piece of memoir comics, or “autobio,” as this work is commonly referred to within comics circles. Burns taps into his childhood with a confidence and curiosity that sets the bar high. It challenges and inspires each of us to reach back and take a closer look into the past.

Analyzing one’s childhood can be a daunting task. Where to begin? As an exercise in recovering memory alone, you have quite a job ahead of you. When did life truly begin for you? For Burns, life seems to have begun in preschool as he dutifully accepted a box of crayons at the start of the day. He goes on to write and draw his way to insightful observations. All the forgotten traumas come home to roost. Burns made it his goal to sift through the big and small details and see what mattered most. This is a childhood in a Central Ohio suburbia during the 60s and 70s. With great care, and a good dose of humor, Burns explores the high and low points: freedom and privilege as well as murder and divorce.

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

Burns plays with that special ambiguity inherent in comics as he casts himself in this first-person narrative. We have Burns at the beginning playing host followed by him appearing to walk back into his childhood past. He is now a child but he appears to remain an adult. His face retains the same mature features in many panels but also seems to shift to a softer and younger version in other panels. The results, for my tastes, give the scenes an added edge. These are all memories, after all, with a dream-like tone. The black & white with gray tones also helps to heighten the sense of searching into the past.

As Burns puts it, we are all dealing with fragments when it comes to our personal memory. One person paints a picture based on childhood while a sibling paints another. We are summoning up phantoms. We are asking our phantoms to dance again. Burns points out that his recollections seek a greater truth. He acknowledges that he wasn’t concentrating on capturing anyone’s likeness. Instead, he wanted to try to understand things better like the tragic death of a classmate.

Now, I’ll get back to this wonderful tension between the adult Burns seeking out his childhood self, with Burns depicting himself as a child but with an adult’s face. It makes for some very compelling passages. I think I like best where he looks back at how much he enjoyed wearing a Superman costume for Halloween when he was seven years-old. He loved it so much that he ended up wearing the costume on a regular basis underneath his street clothes, just like Clark Kent! It’s such a sweet and innocent recollection–and there’s a depiction of Burns, as a child in a Superman costume but with an adult’s face. It’s an scene filled with haunting melancholy and one of the more striking images I’ve seen in comics this year.

Actually, there are more scenes I could get into. I’ll also mention here the birthday party for Burns when he turned six. That’s another passage that I find very moving. The conflict between nostalgia and truth can take a rest here. For one moment of pure joy, Burns is having a grand time with friends in his backyard. He’s having cake and ice cream. And he gets to play with the most amazing toy fire engine, his featured birthday gift. You attach a garden hose to its side and it gushes out water through its tiny fire hose! I would have loved one of those toys!

A LIFE HALF-FORGOTTEN by James Burns

The murky world of memory is evoked quite well and Burns manages to snare some of his childhood ghosts. He manages to sit down with them, talk to them, play with them, and reach some sort of closure. This book invites the reader to do the same.

Visit James Burns right here. You can find A Life Half-Forgotten at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Childhood, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, James Burns, Memoir, Memory, Not My Small Diary

Movie Review: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin.

Imagination has its own reality. Imagination is strongest in childhood. It takes a certain sensibility to carry you back into that world once you’re an adult. In the new movie, Christopher Robin, we see the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s vulnerable stuff. It’s made up of dream-like creatures like Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. In this movie, we see A. A. Milne’s celebrated characters from Hundred Acre Wood depicted as the very creatures of childhood we remember them as in our mind’s eye.

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin. This clever idea is refined into something much more. These two seemed to be like two peas in pod: dreamers in pursuit of nothing, happily stumbling upon something because sometimes something comes from nothing. And then the boy had to leave for boarding school and the greater world beyond and bid farewell to his childhood friends who had to stay behind. It is the grown-up Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, who must reconcile his youthful dreams with his adult reality.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends.

A movie about an adult coming to terms with his childhood may sound a bit heavy but it fits right in with the Disney cornerstone of embracing childhood. Any family understands the delicate balancing act between honoring the needs of adults and children. Conflicts are never too far behind. Christopher Robin, the man, is up to his eyeballs in conflict as he juggles family life with corporate life. It is on the weekend that Christopher must work overtime on budget cuts, and most likely layoff workers, that Winnie-the-Pooh stumbles back into his life.

The beauty of this movie is in its understatement, alternating between a foggy and hectic post-war London to a foggy and mellow Hundred Acre Wood. And, at the heart of this low-key approach, is Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. These characters do not light up the screen with manic frenzy like in the Toy Story franchise. Even Tigger gives off a more ambiguous vibe. These characters are not supposed to be so much larger-than-life as part of the stuff of life. You have to experience the movie for yourself to truly appreciate it. Essentially, the characters have been brought down to a childhood scale: sort of rumpled up as if left out in the rain once or twice. They look and feel as if lived-in, as if personifying childhood: milk and cookies, warm pajamas, and bedhead. What could be more wonderful?

Whimsy and Quirk Butt Heads with Harsh Reality.

Ah, the conflict between adult reality and childhood dreams. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor is up to the task of playing a Peter Pan in reverse. He is definitely all grown up and now must struggle to rediscover his inner child. McGregor, a naturally athletic and playful actor, is certainly up to the task. Also compelling is Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin. And, as the heir to the Pooh childhood, Bronte Carmichael is enchanting as Madeline Robin. All in all, you have just the right level of whimsy and ethereal quirk. I should mention here that The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, written by Richard and Robert Sherman, gets it due as Tigger is easily triggered into singing it in any scene he’s in.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

For late summer entertainment, Christopher Robin is just right. Think of it as the other side of a coin that includes Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. While the Cruise flick is relentlessly action-packed, the McGregor flick is relentlessly contemplative, even a bit melancholic, but in a very good way. Come to think of it, even the Cruise movie has its share of wistful moments! Both star men who somehow manage to defy age. Both can be Peter Pan if they care to be. And both can certainly entertain.

Visit the official Christopher Robin site right here.

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Filed under Childhood, Disney, Family, Movie Reviews, movies, Winnie-the-Pooh

SIFF Review: EIGHTH GRADE

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade

An honest portrayal of youth can make for a revelatory and refreshing movie, which is exactly what Eighth Grade is. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, it follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last five days in middle school. It is easily the highlight to this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

You have to let kids be kids, and then maybe some magic can happen. That is the approach Burnham takes while still being able to craft a finely-structured script beforehand. At the start, there is this jittery and spontaneous vibe as we see raw and pixelated footage of Kayla talking about herself and kids in general on her YouTube channel. She stammers, she seems to just speak in circles. But it’s all actually in the script, word for word–and wonderfully performed by Elsie Fisher. And then, as it was later revealed to the audience at SIFF, it was Fisher’s idea to add in her own trademark sign-off. She makes an O-kay sign and says, “Gucci.” 27-year-old Burnham claimed to not know the popular meme reference prior to 15-year-old Fischer offering it up.

To tap into vulnerable and awkward youth is one of those mighty artistic quests. As a celebrated multi-talent in his own right, Burnham is certainly up to that ambitious goal. For filmmakers and writers, it is a right of passage to answer the call to addressing the whole issue of coming of age. That has resulted in everything from George Lucas’s American Graffiti to Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, the list goes on. Too often, such a teen flick is cast with older characters. You raise the bar higher when you have actors that are also actual teenagers, like in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in Eighth Grade

You feel like you want to protect Kayla as she ventures out, looking for love, friends, and a purpose in life. At first, I was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop and we find that Kayla is going to be setup and hurt along the lines of Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s Carrie. Well, for one thing, this movie definitely does not fall within the horror genre. Still, there’s that fear for Kayla along the lines of Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, with a wickedly unstable Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza. What will help Kayla stay safe? Part of the answer is her father, Mark, played by Josh Hamilton. He ends up getting a healthy amount of screen time which is greatly deserved. By providing this warm and sensitive parent as a counterbalance, there are clear signs of hope beyond the rabbit hole of social media.

EIGHTH GRADE

After that first flickering image of young and desperate Kayla attempting to engage with the internet, there are various scenes that drive home the point that Kayla’s life is severely isolated. This begs the question of whether Kayla is closer to being an at-risk misfit or being a typical teen. What we come to find is that Kayla is indeed far more closer to what we are all like than we may care to admit. Kayla struggles to fit in with the “cool kids,” battles her painful shyness, and is mortified time and again on her journey of self-discovery. The coming-of-age theme is not the great Moby Dick prize for ambitious talent to harpoon for nothing. It IS the prize that can blind lesser aspirants. Burnham does well to let his young cast help him keep his clarity while he’s at the helm. In the end, we can all enjoy an authentic experience and give it an O-Kay sign and say, “Gucci.”

Eighth Grade goes into wide release in the U.S. on July 13, 2018.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Social Media

Tacoma Focus: Tinkertopia

Tinkertopia 24-Hour Comics Day Book for 2015

On a recent trip to Tacoma, I went to visit my dear friend, Dalton and his family. Our first stop was Tinkertopia. Dalton said it was just the place to go and he was so right. This place has everything in the way of quirky and functional art supplies and curios and such. Well, there’s a very practical and worthwhile side to this. Tinkertopia plays a vital role in the community as it is in the forefront of the reuse and do-it-yourself movement. Much of what is on display and for sale has been salvaged and recycled in some way in order to enjoy a new life as alternate artwork and arts & crafts supplies. Tinkertopia is also a prime location for workshops of all kinds, especially for kids.

As a cartoonist, I was quite taken with the mini-comics on display which, after a closer look, were the results of numerous 24-Hour Comics Day marathons. I am something of an expert of 24HCD, I suppose, as I’ve been creating comics during that event for a number of years. It’s always fun to see what comes from these comics experiments. The merry band of cartoonists that congregate at Tinkertopia enjoy a perfectly built-in ecosystem for such endeavors. The books on display are by R.R., that’s short for Rerun (aka RR Anderson), the master of ceremonies at Tinkertopia.

A fine and dandy drawing style by Rerun!

Many comics fans, young and old, are familiar with Rerun’s cartooning antics which feature the Hairy Mermaid. Rerun has as a clean and polished style. His sense of humor is highly irreverent and just a lot of fun. Rerun’s fluid line makes it all looks effortless and graceful. But I can see that he’s put in the elbow grease necessary to have a facile way with drawing trucks and squids flying through space from one panel to the next. A nice crisp style like Rerun’s comes from dedication and a genuine tireless love for the comics medium.

If you have a young inventor in the family, or want to throw a unique birthday party, or maybe need help with recycling, come to Tinkertopia. Founded by two Tacoma artists, Tinkertopia is all about resource conservation in partnership with local industries, educators, and activists. There’s always something on to inspire and to educate. In March, for example, you can take part in a workshop to build Tiny Treehouses and Leprechaun Lairs! There are numerous workshops and events at Tinkertopia that will have something for everyone. Go visit Tinkertopia right here.

And one final note: You want to know more about RR Anderson? Well, he’s the real deal trifecta: a cartoonist, inventor, and author. Check out his book, “The Tacomic.” As he puts it himself: “RR Anderson is one of the most curious alternative political cartoonists in FeedTacoma.com history. He fought bizarre underground beings in the lava tubes of Juneau, Alaska; was wounded by a laser before it was invented; and was a founding father of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians (C.L.A.W.). Questions? Seek him out drawing on the sidewalk at Friday’s Frost Park Chalk Challenge in the center of downtown Tacoma. Ultimately his work is about friendship, need and other timeless values.” Visit RR Anderson right here.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, 24HCD, Comics, mini-comics, Political Cartoons, RR Anderson, Tacoma

BEARDO Comic Strip Ends

The final installment of BEARDO, by Dan Dougherty, is now available as a print.

BEARDO, the long-running humor comic strip about family life by Dan Dougherty, has reached its end. Dan Dougherty is one of the finest cartoonist/illustrators in the business. He has all the qualities and skills that make him a professional: a strong work ethic, dedication to craft, and steadfast persistence. These darn cartoons don’t get drawn by themselves, folks. It takes a special person to see it through and make it all look so effortless. The above comic strip is a prime example.

The final installment of BEARDO, by Dan Dougherty, is now available as a print. Visit Dan and pick up your print right here. And, while you’re visiting Dan at his site, you’ll discover all the other work he’s been up to including a thrilling comic book series, TOUCHING EVIL, and his band, On the Off Chance.

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Filed under Comic Strips, Comics, Dan Dougherty, Family, GoComics, Humor

Review: THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.

Reading GUM GIRL

The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.

Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Children's Books, Disney, Education, Illustration, Literacy, Reading

Review: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.

Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK

As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.

THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comedy, Comics, DC Comics, Downtown Bookworks, Humor, Jokes, Super Heroes

DVD Review: LION

LION

“Lion” is quite a heartwarming film. It involves the myriad of humanity in conflict with the individual. It is about what happens when one individual becomes untethered from his unique place in the world. Lost from home, one little boy will lose his past only to seek it out again once he’s a man. It’a an amazing story. And based upon a true story. Up for multiple Academy Award nominations, this is a movie that is every bit colorful and compelling. And it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray on April 11th.

Five-year-old Saroo, having fallen asleep on a train during a scavenging spree, has managed to displace himself about a thousand miles from his village. The scenes of little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), stealing bits of coal off of trains is like out of a gritty fairy tale. When Saroo steals some moments of solitude, he can be found basking in lush scenery interspersed with butterflies. But reality strikes when Saroo and Guddu press their luck on the ill-fated night that they are forever separated.

Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo

While Saroo had reveled in the splendor of his home, he suddenly becomes a little boy lost in Calcutta, one of the most populous places in the world. Ultimately, Saroo will be taken to an orphanage where he will be placed with his new family, in Australia, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.

Twenty years on, the all-grown-up Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) remains haunted by his displacement and sets out, with the help of Google Earth, to track down his original family and home. Given that half the movie centers on Saroo’s search, Patel provides a fine performance as the determined and vulnerable Saroo. His girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), adds just the right amount grounded counterbalance.

Directed by Garth Davis, screenplay by Luke Davies adapted from Saroo Brierley’s book, this is a great family movie. Director Davis is working here more with an emotional, rather than intellectual, tale that he gently reveals. That said, there is also plenty of food for thought. I was especially moved by a scene with Nicole Kidman where she speaks about her choice to be a parent.

In a time when understanding among cultures is all the more urgent, this is certainly a relevant film with an uplifting and positive story to tell.

At the end of the film, just as the credits are about to roll, a staggering statistic is announced: Over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. In response, the makers of this film have collaborated with various organizations to create the #LionHeart campaign. For more details, visit the official film website right here.

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Filed under Family, Home, India, Movie Reviews, movies, Parents

Review: THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Immigrants, Immigration, Vietnam, Vietnam War