Internal Wilderness

Title: Internal Wilderness

Author: Claire Scully

Summary: A journal of a sequence of events occurring over a period of time and location in space.

Based in London, freelance illustrator Claire Scully works in pen, ink and digital with a heavy focus on drawing. Her work explores a variety of themes including the relationship between ‘man’ and his environment. Internal Wilderness is part of an ongoing project looking at ‘landscape and memory’ – our relationship with the environment, effects we have on the world and space around us and in turn it’s profound affect on our own memory and emotions.

Each of these landscapes is a starting point to a much bigger adventure that strives to answer the question of what lays beyond the horizon. Within the space on each sheet of paper a world can be created either from a distant memory of a childhood holiday or from the desire to see parts of the world that for now are only dreamed about.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: With no words, this little book was a quick, but wonderful read. Each page shows a landscape: mountains, fields, lakes, forests… Each page is its own little escape. They are all set at night, with a full moon featuring in almost all of them. The light from the moon reflects back on the sea, on steams, on cloud cover and mist. The colour palette is black, white, and shades of blue. It’s all gorgeous.

I spent long minutes looking at these pages, taking in the art and the detail, but also letting go. I wondered if these were real places–real views. I let myself believe there was a corresponding spot on the earth somewhere where i could stand to see these images in real life. I also thought about places i have been where i’ve seen similar views, and the feelings i experienced there. The knowledge that the world is so vast, while i’m so small. How minute my own worries were in the face of that.

This book took me away for the time i was reading it, and the places it took me were lovely. It’s a book i’ll pick up again, when i need to escape, but can’t go anywhere.

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Dockwood

Title: Dockwood

Author: Jon McNaught

Summary: It’s a cloudy Tuesday in October and the residents of the town are going about their business as usual. In Elmsview Nursing Home, a kitchen porter dutifully prepares lunch for residents. Elsewhere, a council worker sweeps the fallen leaves from the pavements. Along Nettlefield Road, a paperboy is delivering his daily round. And in the trees, swallows gather noisily in preparation for their annual migration.

In this bittersweet and contemplative work, Jon McNaught weaves together the everyday lives of three locals against an evocative backdrop of autumnal transitions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: As with almost all my graphic novel purchases, this was bought on a whim from my local comic shop. I love impulse buying graphic novels–they are rarely as disappointing as random book buys!

This book is so, so lovely. It has two stories in it, but i think the word ‘story’ doesn’t do them justice. They don’t really have plots, or development, or conclusion. Instead of stories, they’re more like a series of moments. Each is so quiet and unassuming. Both are set in the fictional British town of Dockwood. The first, Elmview, follows an employee at a care home as he helps the chef in the kitchen and as he delivers cups of tea to the residents. The second, Sunset Ridge, follows a kid walking home from school with a friend and doing his paper round.

The art is wonderful. With a limited colour palette of blue, red, pink, black, and white, the panels are simple, but hold so much depth, change, and mood. And mood is really what this book is all about. There is some dialogue in the stories, but most panels have no text. Instead they show people walking, chopping, folding, reading. Instead they show animals flying, climbing, eating, perching. These panels, strung together, show small moments that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. They have a peaceful feeling about them. Serene and simple, they made me take the time to slow down and really appreciate them–really experience them. I found this book just really, really calming.

My favourite moment would be in Sunset Ridge when the kid stops for a few minutes to eat a chocolate bar and read one of the papers he is delivering. There is a story about a new galaxy being discovered and he stops to look up at the night sky, still munching on his snack. It’s a moment to contemplate how big the universe is, and how small you are in comparison to it all… Then a bus drives past, blocking the view with a giant advert for an action film. Suddenly we’re back down to earth and moving on–to the next moment.

This graphic novel is just lovely. That’s the word. It wrapped my mind up the same way a blanket would wrap my body. Safe, and warm, and comfortable.

It is also not without humour…

Mystery Circus

Title: Mystery Circus (Week One)

Author: Verity Hall

Summary: “I guess nobody comes to take the posters down….”

After finding an old circus poster that is months out of date, as well as advertising a performer who is now dead, Malorey Hassan’s curiosity is sparked. When the same circus returns to the town Mal cannot miss the opportunity to find out more about the dead girl.

Dragging her friend Eddie along for the ride, Mal tries to infiltrate the circus and get some answers to her many questions, as well as get to know the performers. However she doesn’t realise that her questioning is starting to annoy people, and that she might not like the answers she seeks.

As Mal keeps digging and begins to see a chance to escape her humdrum life, things get stranger and stranger at Parvati’s Circus.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: First of all: cover love. Art, minimalist, negative space, bold use of colour. The cover is the reason i picked this book up. The circus storyline and the POC main character are the reasons i bought it.

So, the art is great. It’s bold and fun and colourful. It’s got lots of depth and detail without being too much or too busy. It has so much life, and brings so much life to the characters, in their postures and gestures and faces. There are also these large, single panel, location pieces to mark each new day/chapter, and those are wonderful (more negative space–insert heart eyes emoji here).

The characters were… characters. Rocco, the strong man, and Eddie, the best friend, were delightful. Everyone else was pretty nasty, really. Mal, our main character, was interesting in may ways and had a lot of personal stuff going on, but they were also very single-minded and seemed to not care a jot for other people’s feelings. Mostly people were just selfish and intent on hiding things.

I can cope with horrible characters, and i was getting quite into them by the end of this book. However, the start dragged quite a bit. The first two or three days, nothing much happened–the same scenario is repeated, with our inquisitive main character doing the same things and expecting different results. It was only about halfway through that things started moving. Another issue is that this book is only the first part of a longer series. By the end of the book, no questions are answered. We’ve met our cast of characters, we know people are hiding things, and we want to know what’s going on… then nothing. It’s the end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s left me wanting the next instalment, but as a single book it offered no conclusion. In isolation, this book has no story, really. Which is a shame.

Overall, though, i loved this artwork, i’m intrigued by the story, and i love the diverse characters and LBGT+ themes it includes. When is week two happening, please?

Soppy

Title: Soppy

Author: Philippa Rise

Summary: True love isn’t always about the big romantic gestures.

Sometimes it’s about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold, watching TV and sharing a quilt, or allowing your partner to order take-away pizza again. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

Soppy is Philippa Rice’s collection of pitch-perfect comics based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, Soppy captures the universal experience of sharing a life together.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is just a bloody delight. I’d seen a few of the comics about online and they were just so sweet and genuine and relatable. When i saw the book, i knew i was going to buy it. I basically had a smile on my face the entire time i was reading it.

It’s the story of falling in love, and sharing your life with someone. The little moments that happen but can often get lost in the chaos of everyday life are captured here so perfectly. Of course, these comics resonate for me as i’ve been in a loving relationship with my partner for over 11 years. I’d imagine if you’re single or only newly dating they might not have the same significance. But i think of a lot of people, even if this kind of relationship and these kind of moments aren’t what they have, are close to what they want.

The art is absolutely lovely, too. For using only black, white and red, Rice creates so much depth and detail and texture in her drawings. It was often the larger single-panel pieces without text that I loved. Playing Carcassonne by candlelight, laying together on a blanket, making tea together in the kitchen. These are the moments where there might not really be a story or a joke, but are still shared moments where there is just ease between a happy couple. I loved them a lot.

Ultimately i loved this book so much because it made me happy, i smiled and thought of my partner, i remembered how lucky we are to have moments very much like the ones in these comics. It’s a wonderful book.

And my favourite, without a shadow of a doubt, it this amazing gem…

The Practical Implications of Immortality

Title: The Practical Implications of Immortality

Author: Matthew Dooley

Summary: Fresh from winning the 2016 Jonathan Cape/Comica/Observer prize, Matthew Dooley returns with his second collection of comics. Featuring tales of astronauts, milkmen, and more existential angst than you can shake a stick at, The Practical Implications of Immortality is a characteristically witty and often surreal follow-up to Matthew’s first collection Meanderings.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I got this from my local comic shop on a whim (as most of my purchases there are–i love it). I just liked the art style on the cover and interesting title. It’s also a book of short comics, which for a 28 page book, made them pretty damn short!

The art is wonderful. It’s fairly simple, which make its small details, like facial expressions and texture, really easy on the eye. It’s also colourful, with a restricted pastel palette used for most of the stories. Basically any single panel from this book could be blown up and framed and i would gladly hang it on my wall (even the naked ones).

The stories themselves made me laugh out loud often and with great joy. A lot of them are quite… pessimistic, which makes the humour quite black. And that’s likely why it made me laugh so much. (It’s funny because (to my cynical self) it’s true?) A few of the best would be a pair of birds talking shit about Napoleon, a world full of Matthew Dooleys, and various wonderful ways to avoid an existential crisis.

My very favourite, though… the one that wrenched a proper good cackle from me, was this untitled masterpiece:

 

In summary: I loved it. I want to get my hands on Dooley’s first collection of comics, too, but unfortunately his website is sold out. Le sigh. If you get the chance, pick this up: £4.00 definitely well spent.

A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness

Summary: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: When i bought this book from my local comic book shop, the guy behind the counter warned me to have a box of tissues nearby when i read it. He wasn’t wrong.

The story is a simple one, but one well told, with depth and meaning not immediately obvious. It’s hard, reading about Conor coping (or not) with his mother’s illness whilst also trying to navigate life with a grandmother he doesn’t get on with, fights with friends, stand offs with enemies, and an all but absent father. His visits from the monster are almost a relief… taking him out of that world, but still, abstractedly, dealing with the issues from it.

This is a book that deals so well with grief, and loss, and change, and all the messy human emotions that people experience. And it does that so, so well. Never heavy-handed, never too vague. The story is a dark one, but manages to tell it with a certain lightness–an approachable ease; it wasn’t really until three quarters of the way through that it hit me in gut and pulled hard at my emotions.

And the artwork… they are something to get lost in. The full page spreads are packed with detail and texture, while the smaller pieces blend and weave with the words to make a more immersive reading experience. All the artwork is in black and white, and though in some ways that seems stark, in more ways it only enhances the importance of the story being told. The images are striking and bold while never drawing too much attention away from the words.

The end… well. The reader knows what’s coming, just like Conor. And just like Conor, it’s not easy to go through. But it is important.

I do think this is a five-star book, but i just can’t bring myself to give it five stars. It’s a very good and important book, but it’s also a hard book. It’s sad, and although i loved and appreciate it… i can’t celebrate it. If that makes any sort of sense?

Nimona

nimonaTitle: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Summary: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: In contrast to the last book i read, i had no expectations of this one. I heard about it somewhere, thought it looked fun, bought it. By the time i finally picked it up to read, well… i was in love by the end of page two.

Where do i start? It’s hard when i really did love everything about this book. Its premise is wonderfully subversive. Our two main characters are the villains, working to expose and overthrown the heroes and their institution. It’s been said that to the villain of a story, they see themselves as the protagonist–in this book, they are the protagonists. And this book is funny. Perfectly, wonderfully, brilliantly funny. Just the perfect about of silly, heartfelt and witty.

Nimona is an absolute joy. She’s straight-talking, smart, silly and brave. She can be any shape she wants to, and as standard she chooses a plus-size, shaven-head, short-skirt-wearing kick-arse woman. She is my favourite. Blackheart is a bloody sweetheart! Sad and angry about his past, he’s a villain who lacks the passion for evil, while constantly showing compassion. I could happily read about this crime-committing duo for many, many more comics.

Ambrosius… has a fantastic name. He was purposely vapid at first, i think–a play on the attractive but ultimately dull hero. As his past with Blackheart is revealed, however, he becomes more complex, interesting, and likable. His and Blackheart’s relationship was wonderfully played out, so subtle but with such depth. Blitzmeyer is another delight. Incredibly smart and incredibly peculiar, she won me over swiftly. I only wish there had been more of her.

The art in this comic was enchanting. Bright, bold, and clear, with cute little details like Nimona’s piercings, Blackheart’s scars, and subtle use of shades. I often wanted to whizz quickly over panels to follow the story i was so engrossed in, but i kept making myself pause to fully appreciate the action- and emotion-focused panels. They are gorgeous. The sketches at the end of the book are lovely, too. To see the development and evolution of Nimona, and how that is reflected in her various hair dos, poses and facial expressions was nice to have.

Honestly, i don’t have a bad word to say about this book. Which is why it’s got five stars. The only (very mildly) annoying thing about the entire experience is that i’ve spent the last few days with Guster’s Ramona in my head… “Nimona, where have you been?”

Through the Woods

ttwTitle: Through the Woods

Author: Emily Carroll

Summary: It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite a while, but saved it as I thought it would be the perfect halloween-time read. It was.

First, and most obviously, this book is gorgeous. The simple-but-striking cover, with creepy branches, limited colours and embossed feel is what drew me to the book in the first place. The art inside is just as striking. The panels are clean and uncluttered, bold in what they show. The use of negative space was incredible and added so much to the atmosphere of the stories (we’re not afraid of the darkness, we’re afraid of what the darkness is hiding). The artwork seems so effortless; it all flows and works so well. It’s not busy, but holds such detail. It’s just amazingly beautiful, and to say that of a graphic horror novel makes me so happy.

The stories themselves are similar, i think, in their simplicity and depth. Nothing is given away easily. The reader is let in on a glimpse of the tale, and it is in the art–the faces, the colours, the settings, the space–as well as the words, that the stories are told. The stories are generally heavy on the build up, on the back story, on the scene setting. A couple of times i found myself awaiting a twist, a big reveal, a spike in the action… but that wasn’t what these stories were about. There weren’t solid conclusions or explanations to these tales–that’s not the point. These stories are about a creeping horror, that crawls inside and makes itself at home. There was no release offered by an explanation or solid conclusion–that would be too easy.

I loved all the stories, but i think my favourite was My Friend Janna.

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The next time i want to feel a chill down my spine and wonder what’s hiding in the darkness, I will definitely re-read this by candle light while the wind howls outside.

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Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

comix-coverTitle: Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

Author: John Cei Douglas

Summary: A collection of stories ranging from nostalgic coming of age tales to long distance relationships, being stranded on desert islands, coping with mental health problems and the childlike wonder of exploring fantasy worlds.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I picked this little book up at my local comic shop on a whim, and I’m utterly delighted with it. The whole book has this quiet, slowness about it. Reading it, i felt safe and warm and understood.

Several of the stories don’t have any words–no narration or dialogue–just the images of each frame to progress the story. I loved that, because it made me focus on the images more, to tease out what was happening through visuals alone. It also leaves the details of the story much more open to interpretation. Footnotes, for example, shows a couple in a long distance relationship gradually drifting apart, but without insight into their thoughts or conversations it’s left to the reader to decide how and why they ended up drifting apart.

One of my favourite stories was Living Underwater, which uses the idea of living underwater as a metaphor for depression and mental health problems. How you can slip into the water without realising it’s happening, how it can become an isolating ocean, and how you might be able to find the direction to dry land.

The title story, Show Me the Map to Your Heart, is wonderful. It puts a fantasy adventure twist on a new relationship, to explore the ideas surrounding discovering each other and yourself. The middle pages of the book are a large fold-out image mapping the trail the lovers take, it’s quite beautiful. And this story included my favourite line of the entire book:

Her heart was hole but lost

She was so caring she had left pieces of it behind, not thinking that one day she might need them herself.

This book was as comforting as a soft blanket and a cup of tea. I felt like I had those from reading alone, and for a book to evoke that kind of calm feeling was lovely to experience.

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Wytches

wythchesTitle: Wytches

Author: Scott Synder, Jock (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)

Summary: When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, New Hampshire, to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient… and hungry.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Graphic novel horror story with excellent-looking art, i wanted this book. The graphic aspect is amazing, shame about the story part.

I both liked and disliked the narrative style. The present day and flashbacks, side by side and interspersed. I liked it because it kept me guessing, kept me wondering, but unfortunately it made the story as a whole not work as well. I couldn’t sympathise or root for the characters in the present day, because i didn’t know their history; i didn’t understand them. To be quite honest, i didn’t like any of the characters. I came to like Charlie, but only right at the very end and after his full back story is revealed. I also called the “twist” very early on. For all i didn’t like any of the characters, it was pretty clear who they’d made most vague and suspicious. The plot was weak, with, again, the full extent of it only revealed at the very end… stories shouldn’t work like that. You don’t explain everything at the end, you leave pieces all the way through which then all come together at the end. It was just poor storytelling.

The art, however, is absolutely amazing. It has depth and design and mood… it has so much atmosphere and detail. It was the art that makes this book any kind of good. It carried the entire thing. It held the emotions of the story, it had the horror, the loneliness, the despair, the joy, the love. It’s all in the art, not in the words or the plot.

I would look at this book again, but i wouldn’t read it.