Gender Queer

Gender Queer book cover

Title: Gender Queer

Author: Maia Kobabe

Summary: In Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe has crafted an intensely cathartic autobiography about eir path to identifying as nonbinary and asexual, and coming out to eir family and society. By addressing questions about gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–the story also doubles as a much-needed, useful, and touching guide.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book was handed to me by my partner only a few days ago with the instruction to read it. I could have finished it in one sitting, but I paced myself and made it last three. Still very much devoured it.

A comic memoir sharing Kobabe’s journey with eir gender and sexuality, it was immediately a warm, open, and safe place e was creating with this book. By page 40 I had found several things very relatable. By page 87 I had laughed out loud numerous times. And by page 222 I was crying (a good sign for me and books, apparently).

Spanning childhood all the way to adulthood in a rough chronology, Kobabe takes us on eir path of self-doubt and self-discovery. The artwork is deceptively simple yet evocative, the designs fun and interesting, the dialogue and turns of phrase vivid and witty. It was a joy to be swept along in eir story.

I would like to think that everyone could relate to at least some of Kobabe’s early experiences, but I might be being naive in that assumption—simply because I related to parts of eir story, doesn’t mean everyone will. But I do hope those that can’t relate can at least begin to understand.

A lot of the analogies and metaphors Kobabe uses to express eir thoughts and feelings around eir gender and sexuality were liberating to my own. While others weren’t relatable to me, they did help me comprehend and sympathise with the struggles others go through.

This really feels like a required-reading book, and covers things not often discussed openly (or at all) in such thoughtful and accessible ways. I thoroughly enjoyed and high recommend it.



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Terrible Means

Terrible Means book coverTitle: Terrible Means

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, something is stirring.

In B. Mure’s prequel to their Ismyre series, an aristocratic businessman reveals the latest must have: a pillar of crystals that when placed within a home allows for the creation of beautiful illusions and more powerful spells to be performed.

But when a strange imbalance emerges in the world’s ecosystem and magic, Henriett, a disgraced biological professor whose plants start inexplicably dying, and Emlyn, a young magician, find themselves working together to discover the source.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is the second book set in the fantasy world of Ismyre. I read the first a few years ago now and loved it. I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while, quietly moving up in my to-read pile and it finally made it to the top.

While the first book in the series was mostly beautiful, quiet moments between characters and minimal plot, this book was mostly plot with a few significant moments between a whole new cast of characters. It was different, but also the same.

The art has the same dreamy quality, with the simple colour palette blending together and stark contrasts in turn, creating such a variety of moods. And the line work keeps the same casual almost haphazard style while also being incredibly detailed. I remain in awe of the art and any frame or page would look gorgeous framed and hung.

Now, the plot. This is a prequel to the first book, so goes some way to expanding on the slices of story there. We see the rich and influential residents of Ismyre throwing lavish parties and enjoying the novelty of newly discovered crystals that enhance people magical abilities. At the same time people in smaller towns and villages further afield are experiencing dying plants and rivers turning black. Could these things be connected? (Spoiler: they are!)

I read the first book over several days, fully wanting to appreciate and spend time in the scenes portrayed. This book, though, I devoured almost in one sitting, the plot fully driving the book on. I adored it.

There are two more books by Mure set in Ismyre, and I look forward to losing myself in them soon.

terrible means 01 terrible means 02

Dinosaur Therapy

dinosaur therapyTitle: Dinosaur Therapy

Author: James Stewart, K Roméy (illustrator)

Summary: A comic about dinosaurs navigating the complexities of life, together.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book was gifted to me by a friend, and I have been flicking through and reading bits of it slowly for months. I didn’t want to consume it all in one sitting, as I quite easily could have. I wanted to take my time and fully appreciate every comic.

I love dinosaurs. Never did let go of that childhood joy they gave me. So of course i love the illustrations. They’re simple, but show so much with tiny details. The colours, the tilt of a mouth, the narrowing of eyes. My favourite has to be the rainbow dinosaur.

And the comics themselves… they each say so much with such few words. Every comic is relatable to a more or lesser extent. Some made me laugh with how a concept was summed up, some had me hissing out loud with just how accurate they were and how hard they hit.

It’s definitely a book to pick up and flick through, to stumble upon a comic that resonates and gives you a smile or a moment of reflection. I have absolutely followed the instagram account, and highly recommend you do to: @dinosandcomics

Here are just a few of my favourites from the book…

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The Book of Forks

Title: The Book of Forks

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Castro Smith finds himself imprisoned within the mysterious Power Station, writing his Book of Forks while navigating baffling daily meetings with Poly, a troubled young woman who may be his teacher, his doctor, his prison guard . . . or something else entirely. Meanwhile, back home, Vera and Scarper’s search for their missing friend takes them through the chaotic war zone of the Bear Park and into new and terrifying worlds. With The Book of Forks, Rob Davis completes his abstract adventure trilogy by stepping inside Castro’s disintegrating mind to reveal the truth about the history of the world, the meaning of existence, and the purpose of kitchen scales.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The third and final book in Davis’ The Motherless Oven trilogy, I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs on it. I was sad my copy didn’t come with a bookplate, as I had hoped to frame and display all three, but the book is obviously more important.

This book has as much weird and wonderfulness as the first two. With the main characters venturing out beyond the boarders of The Bear Park, where (almost) all of them have lived for their entire lives, we get to see new places and new ways in which these worlds are strange, bizarre, and fascinating. Guerilla postmen, exploding people, diseases as gods, and rotting corpses on the street. And of course we see more of Castro’s book (can you guess what it’s called?), which explores the history and nature of this world in all its peculiarness.

The art, as ever, is beautiful. Simple, but with such amazing detail. The faces are definitely my favourite, varying from plain and unobtrusive in wider panels, slightly more detailed in more medium panels, to perfectly detailed with amazing subtleties in expression and character in the really close panels. I could look at the faces alone for quite a while. Pages from Castro’s book are presented as a kind of divide between chapters and two alternating storylines, which worked well, and I loved the layout and illustrations, as well as the contrasting white-on-black of those pages.

People accept whatever absurdity surrounds them as reality. And yet, to question this absurdity is to become absurd.

I five-star loved the first two books in this series, but unfortunately this book didn’t hit me with quite the same amazement. I really enjoyed this one, it just… It’s longer than either of the first two, but it also feels like less happens for some reason. I think the story races to its conclusion, trying to tie all the threads together, but is also trying to cram in a lot of new things (Castro’s personal story, his book, the other death states, the postmen…). It just doesn’t fully work. And as much as i enjoyed the pages from Castro’s book, they were often a little… much. Whole pages of text in a graphic novel, and switching from panels to full bodies of text and back again made for slow progress, an inconsistent reading pattern, and loss of focus. I loveloveloved Castro’s insightfulness and theories on the strange things the characters in this world accept as normal, but this book made me realise I loved them in context and in brief. Entire pages with numerous (useless) footnotes failed to keep my interest as high.

Overall I do love this series, and it will certainly be one I’d love to revisit. Likely i will choose to read this installment in two halves–the story told in panels, then all the pages from Castro’s book separately. I think I would enjoy it a lot more that way.

Goddess Mode

Title: Goddess Mode

Author: Zoe Quinn, Robbi Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Summary: In a near future where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., it’s one young woman’s horrible job to do tech support on it. But when Cassandra finds herself violently drawn into a hidden and deadly digital world beneath our own, she discovers a group of super-powered women and horrific monsters locked in a secret war for the cheat codes to reality.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4

Review: I’ve been reading these comics as they’ve come out, which isn’t something I normally do because I have no patience and want to read it all at once. But my partner was the one buying them, and they were there and the story sounded interesting and by the second or third comic i was hooked. So here were are.

It’s a no-brainer, really–this series has everything I love. Science fiction, strong female leads, bright colours with a gritty realism, intrigue, and cliffhangers. The dystopian world the story is set in is one that is easy to imagine in our foreseeable future. Adverts everywhere you look because you have nanotech in your eyeballs, a holographic AI popping up to tell you things, oh, and an entire digital world, pseudo-superheroes, and the monsters they fight. That last bit is less foreseeable.

The story is pretty complex for short six-part comics, but never overwhelmingly so. With four main characters and at least four more supporting, they all have their own backstory and character development which feeds into the story as a whole. I loved the main-main character, Cassandra. Her spunky attitude and great hair made me fond very quickly. She’s smart, but overwhelmed, and with huge emotional investment in everything that goes on. My other favourite characters were Tatyanna for her misanthropic cynicism and well-hidden kindness, and Antimony for rocking that eye patch and being so much more than the mother of monsters she was taken for.

Of course, the artwork is freaking gorgeous. So much bright, rich texture and depth. How vibrant Azoth, the digital world, is compared to the “real” analogue world. The quiet simplicity in some frames and the bold chaotic action in others. It’s definitely a comic I’ve wanted to stop and look at a lot more than others, and completely brings to life this incredible world in a science fiction and fantasy mix.

The ending wonderfully tied up several plot threads and left me feeling satisfied, while also unravelling a few more and leaving me in anticipation of a sequel. And now I wait…


Ismyre

Title: Ismyre

Author: B. Mure

Summary: In the city of Ismyre, Ed the sculptor works as his widower neighbour sings strange melodies late into the night.

Meanwhile, across the city, a government building explodes into a mess of plants and flowers, and B. Mure’s enchanting story of mystery and fantasy begins…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: This was an impulse buy from my local comic book shop. I have my most successful random purchases with graphic novels, and this one is another win. I couldn’t resist that blurb, and the book didn’t let me down.

The story follows Ed. He sits quietly in his flat, sculpting small wooden figures, and saying “Hm” a lot. I liked him immediately. We also meet the prime minister, who’s dealing with missing people and government buildings blowing up in flowers; Faustine, a friendly but evasive magic user with adorable kids; and the widow, a lady who lives near Ed and sings a lot. The story involves Faustine helping Ed hunt for some of his sculptures that are being stolen, as well as creating a large ice sculpture commissioned by the prime minister. But the plot is almost–almost–incidental. The real focus is on the quiet, lonely nature of the world and the easy, light friendship that builds between Ed and Faustine.

And the art. Oh, the art. Blues, reds, greens, and yellows… melding and overlapping or in stark contrast, light and sparse or bold and filling the frame. How four colours in varying shades and strengths can evoke such varied moods and atmospheres is incredibly done. The characters are all humanoid animals–cats, dogs, crocodiles, birds, deers, frogs, mice… And the line work, walking that fine and beautiful line between neat and tidy, and rough and ready. It feels casual, but is so detailed without being overwhelming. It’s just bloody gorgeous, honestly.

There are two other books by Mure set in the city of Ismyre, and i’ve already added them to my to-read list. I can’t wait to spend more time in the quiet, peculiar little town. My two favourite things from the book were two very simple quotes. I’ll leave you with them and their pages from the book.

Hm.

Very interesting, mostly useless.

Hm.mostly useless

The Can Opener’s Daughter

Title: The Can Opener’s Daughter

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: Vera Pike lives in the cruel world of Grave Acre. Her mother is the Weather Clock, the megalomaniacal Prime Minister of Chance. Her father is a can opener. Charting Vera’s childhood, the second part of Rob Davis’ trilogy takes us from her home in Parliament to suicide school, and from the Bear Park to the black woods that lie beyond. In the present day, Vera and Castro Smith are determined to see their friend Scarper again – but is he even alive? Can anyone outlive their deathday? A darkly inventive sequel, The Can Opener’s Daughter answers many of the questions posed in The Motherless Oven, while asking plenty more of its own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is every bit as freakishly wonderful as its predecessor, The Motherless Oven. Name plates, suicide charts, and ink gods… there were so many new weird and incredible details. Details that are just so mundane and accepted by characters in the book, but that just make me smile and ponder possible deeper meanings. Whether there are deeper meanings or not–whether you look for them or not–doesn’t matter. I just as easily love this book for its random nonsense.

Because Vera’s Mum is the Weather Clock, and a god to boot. Her dad is a simple manual can opener who gets locked in drawer for a year. She spends her days listening to ink gods, wandering around the parliament building she lives in, and admiring the Escher-esque paintings of the immortals. Totally normal things. Until her mum sends her to suicide school, where she avoids plotting and planning her own demise and instead decides to live forever. And it all makes sense, honestly.

I loved Vera in the first book, and I only loved her more in this one. She’s always been strong-willed, rebellious, and independent, and her face in this comic is just… she’s gorgeous, she’s smug, she’s angry, she’s over it. All the faces and characters (human and non-human) are brilliantly vivid and detailed in the book, particularly those of the three protagonists, but I’ve a soft spot for Vera. Maybe because her face can be so angelic but she’s actually anything but!

The story, other than Vera’s fascinating backstory, is very much a bridge between the first and last books. While the first can stand on its own (albeit with a gaping hole of an open ending, but I love those), and I can only assume the third and final book will have some kind of conclusion and satisfying end to the story. But this book doesn’t have much to allow it to stand up on its own. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. It has taken my love and intrigue from the first book and amplified it, leaving me only wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing.

And the art. It has so much depth and detail. Varies from quite simplistic to immensely intricate. If the concepts are bizarre and out of the ordinary, well, it’s only right that the art work is, too. The contraptions children have cobbled together to call parents–some as simplistic as a basic can opener, others as complex as torturous racing cars. The paintings and wheels. The garden full of growing gazettes. I really love the panel choices and framing of scenes. So many, simply as stand alones, are so striking and beautiful. The Weather Clock’s boobs, though, are absolutely terrifying.

So, yeah. I freaking love this book, and this series. Book three comes out in October and can’t wait to get my hands and eyeballs all over it.

The Motherless Oven

Title: The Motherless Oven

Author: Rob Davis

Summary: In Scarper Lee’s world, parents don’t make children—children make parents. Scarper’s father is his pride and joy, a wind-powered brass construction with a billowing sail. His mother is a Bakelite hairdryer. In this world it rains knives, and household appliances have souls. There are also no birthdays–only deathdays. Scarper knows he has just three weeks to live. As his deathday approaches, he is forced from his routine and strikes out into the unknown–where friendships are tested and authority is challenged.

This unsettling and fiercely original coming-of-age story from Rob Davis traces a journey through a bizarre, distorted teenage landscape: a world not so different from our own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and I’m so annoyed I didn’t read it sooner. I freaking loved it!

This book is weird. I’m a fan of weird. So when the very first page is about it raining knives… yeah, i’m pretty much in love already. So many strange things are introduced quite rapidly, and all without explanation, as if it’s all humdrum and routine–which it is for the characters in this world. Weather clocks, kitchen gods, wheels people watch like a TV… and the only way to figure out what the hell all these things mean is to keep reading. It’s one hell of a hook.

So okay, the story. It follows a trio of new friends (Scarper, Vera, and Castro) as they chase after Scarper’s dad–a big brass vehicle that he made as a child–across the town. They escape the lions at school, turn summer on, and joyride someone else’s dad–all while running away from the police, who are old couples who travel in slow tic-toccing three wheeled carriages. All in the weeks leading up to Scarper’s deathday. It has some deeper meanings, but in a world this bizarre those are completely up for debate and interpretation.

The art, too. All black and white and shadows. The faces of the three main characters are so expressive and speak just as loudly as their words. The parents, being odd contraptions built by their children, are all strange and unique and fascinating. And the just the bizarre nature of things being captured… raining knives, stark white against the black nights; daily wheels, intricate in their repeated patterns; and summer, turned on by mines on chains rising from the ground to hover over the town. It’s so weird, and so mindbogglingly amazing.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, this is one of my new favourite books. I adored it. It’s the first in a trilogy, with it’s sequel The Can Opener’s Daughter moved swiftly up my to-read list. The third book comes out in October and I already can’t wait.

Face

Title: Face

Author: Rosario Villajos

Summary: Face is a magical autobiography about identity, the escape of oneself towards love and the fight to fit in and be “normal” in our society.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The cover of this book, and the short blurb on the back, caught my attention very quickly. I couldn’t help but pick it up at my local comic book shop and bring it home. And like most random purchases of this manner, it did not disappoint.

The premise is simple enough: the book is about a young woman with no face. It follows her as she struggles to build relationships and explores how she feels that she doesn’t fit in with everyone else. Sound familiar? It should. I’m sure everyone has gone through similar struggles. Because the concept isn’t about looks–it’s about identity. Face (as the character is known) studies the faces of the people around her and tries to emulate them, she begins a relationship and finds herself becoming them. She looks to external sources to find herself, with poor results.

It was the end of the book that stood out for me, when she begins to notice just how many other people around her also have no faces–as also struggling with their own identity and place in the world. That we’re all just stumbling through life trying to figure things out.

The art work is mostly black and white, with colour used rarely, but to good effect. The style of the art changes throughout, too. The general panels are fairly simply, while the portraits of people the character takes note of and are important to her are rendered with such careful precision. It all blends and works beautifully together, giving so much life and texture to the pages and the story.

My favourite pages were the chapter markers–1, 2, and 3. Their simplicity, but careful detail were stunning, and how they capture the essence of each chapter is perfect. I particularly love the heart of chapter one. That’s frame-worthy.

Firefly: Back from the Black

Title: Firefly: Back from the Black

Author: Joey Spiotto (Illustrator)

Summary: Ever wondered how the crew of Serenity would fare if they landed back on Earth-That-Was? Would we see etiquette classes by Inara? Remedial math lessons from Jayne? Could River make it as a psychic poker champ? And what kind of carnage could Saffron cause with a charity kissing booth?

Buckle up, Browncoats! Because it’s time to find out…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was given this book as a present for my birthday earlier this year. I hadn’t even known of its existence, but almost anything Firefly related is a welcome gift! This book is a fine addition to my moderate merchandise collection.

A short book of single-panel comic art work, i’ll start off by saying: if you haven’t seen and enjoyed Firefly the TV show, don’t bother picking this book up. Every page is a reference or an in-joke to the programme, and is bound to be lost on those unfamiliar with it.

The art is simple, but cute. The most expressive and comical character is by far Jayne, with his icon hat and range of emotions he is stand out in this book. The colours are all bright and fun, with characters in familiar and new scenarios, usually with a twist or visualising something only referenced in the show (Wash juggling geese was particularly amusing). There are also more scenic panels, often with some glorious negative space (my weak spot–i love it), like Serenity parked up on a quiet suburban street or Jubal Early trying to hitch a ride while floating, unanchored, in space. Any page would look at home in a frame.

It’s a fun little book of adorable little Firefly cartoons. It’s not that deep, but it is that sweet. I loved it.

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