Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Read: 19 October, 2018

The story isn’t particularly linear, with each chapter covering a new expression of the spiral obsession that kills the residents of Kurozu-cho. The main character, Kirie, is a witness to the goings on, and there are other recurring characters, but each chapter can otherwise function as independent short stories.

The artwork is incredibly creepy. Some of the imagery is downright haunting. I was particularly impressed by the subtle gauntness that the spiral’s victims take on, little by little, as they are overtaken.

The horror is very Lovecraftian. There’s no single monster that’s taking victims. Rather, there’s an obsession for spirals so extreme that a character will literally twist his body into a spiral, killing himself. There’s a scar on a girl’s forehead that grows into a spiral pattern and ends up consuming her entirely.

Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis (illustrated by Shae Beagle)

Read: 16 October, 2018

I really love the artwork! The colours really pop, and every character has a very unique style that made it easy to keep track of who was who. I also liked the two different art styles to show what was part of the main story, and what was part of the in-world book.

My only complaint is with the pacing. It starts off nice and slow as we get to meet our characters and see their rapport. Then the mystery starts, and we see a little of how Chet, the character who is mainly affected by the mystery, copes (or not) with what has happened.

All’s good for that first 2/3rds. After that, however, the story seems like it’s rushing to a finish line. There were times when I thought I might have accidentally skipped a page because things were happening so fast. Who are the baddies? Why are they doing what they are doing? There’s a bit in there about trying to rid the world of magic, which would fit with the central theme (the main character, Julie, is embarrassed of being a werewolf and wishes she were a plain human), but that’s just one line. It’s a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it moment that doesn’t do much more than simply nod to the central theme to remind us that it still exists.

The whole final conflict (starting with tracking down the ghost to find out where the final conflict would take place) could have been at least twice as long, and given Julie’s choice to stop the baddie some actual weight.

Aside from that, I did really like this. The characters are interesting, I love all the inclusion, and the art style is perfect for the story being told.

Brave Chef Brianna by Sam Sykes (illustrated by Selina Espiritu)

Read: 9 October, 2018

I really don’t know how to feel about this one. I absolutely love the artwork, first of all. It’s colourful and expressive, and all the characters felt recognisably unique (granted, this is a little easier when so many of the characters are monsters…).

I also liked the representation of anxiety. It’s shown graphically as a little black cloud that appears when Brianna is feeling overwhelmed. As her anxiety attack ramps up, the little cloud grows until it eventually obscures everything around Brianna.

Lastly, I just liked the representation of food service work and restaurant ownership. As hopping as the restaurant is, it still ends up at a slight loss (which is celebrated as a victory). The specificity of that environment added a nice touch to the story.

Unfortunately, a lot of the story just didn’t sit well for me. For one thing, a central plot point is that Brianna is adding illegal ingredients to her food and then serving it to customers without letting them know. She does this knowing that it is against monster tradition to eat flour or sugar. This is on par with serving pork to Muslims while letting them assume that it’s chicken. Not cool.

The other issue is that the big baddie of the story, Madame Cron, is coded as a WoC. She serves traditional, functional monster food, which loses out to Brianna’s imported human food. I’m not reading this SJW stuff into it, by the way – Cron is explicitly shown as having had a history of being oppressed by humans, and having been an activist in her past. And now, the message of the story is that she needs to let go of all that resentment because monster racism is over, and she needs to just let her neighbourhood get gentrified by the nice blonde woman with her non-ethnic cooking that everyone loves.

It would have been one thing if Brianna learned a valuable lesson about respecting Monster traditions, but the lesson is all Madame Cron’s (who is seen taking down a “no humans allowed” sign from her restaurant in her last panel). I just don’t know what to make of all that, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

Lantern City, vol.1 by Trevor Crafts, Matthew Daley, Bruce Boxleitner, & Mairghread Scott (illustrated by Carlos Magno)

Read: 8 October, 2018

I liked this story exactly as much as I like steampunk, because that’s all there really is going on. The protagonist is Blanky McBlankface married to Longsuffering McBlankface. They have one child together, named Pathos Manpain McBlankface.

The authoritarian state that they live in is every authoritarian state you’ve ever seen, complete with the autocrat isolated in his literal tower. It even goes full Star Wars and suddenly brings out “the Empire” about 2/3rds of the way through, after having referred to the power structure as “the Greys” up until that point. What Empire, you may ask? Who knows. All we have is a single city with some unknown danger outside its walls.

The artwork is tone perfect – being competent but without much character. Facial expressions are “realistic”, which makes them look wooden and dead-eyed.

I did like the plot idea of becoming an accidental undercover spy, though. It gives McBlankface quite a shock to realize that the guards don’t live all that much better than he does. I also liked that there are resistance allies on the inside who seek him out and make his subterfuge possible, which in terms traps him in their plotting. There’s a lot of potential there for a reluctant hero to get sucked in way deeper than he ever wanted. And maybe the series will explore that further and redeem itself.

As it is, though, I appreciate the aesthetic, but this story just lacks substance.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Read: 5 September, 2018

This book is so many things. It’s the story of growing up during a war, of living under fundamentalism, of the immigrant experience, or family, of being punk in the ’80s – all together at the same time.

Satrapi’s consistent mouthiness is a joy to read. I also appreciated her vulnerability as she tells us about the time she falsely accused someone else of a crime to avoid being accused herself, or the time she bullied a boy for his father’s political activities. She talks about feeling ashamed of wanting sympathy for how hard it was for her to spend her teens along in Vienna while her family and childhood friends were living in a warzone.

The artwork is perfect. The black-on-white is deceptively simplistic, while conveying a great amount of expression.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Read: 3 September, 2018

I really enjoyed this. It’s your normal coming-of-age story about going to camp for the first time and having trouble adjusting, but with the special twist of coming from an immigrant experience. Vera is a first generation Russian immigrant whose language is half in/half out, going through all those painful third culture kid problems.

I really enjoyed being able to share this with my son, who is a second generation immigrant. It’s hard to explain what being a third culture kid is like, but books like these really help.

Kim & Kim, vol. 1: “This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life” by Magdalene Visaggio, illustrated by Eva Cabrera

Read: 3 September, 2018

I’ve never read the Tank Girl comics, but I’ve always loved the movie (shut up, it’s awesome). I loved the sheer punk-ness of it – the over-the-top sass, the stuff that makes no sense but gets thrown in just because it’s cool, the colours, the joy of it.

Kim & Kim has that same energy. The Fighting Kims live in a grounded, real world (one Kim is humiliated by having to beg her parents to pay her rent when she fails yet again, while the other Kim is consistently misgendered by her father), yet they live big and loud. They are colourful, they love what they do, they are cartoonishly vibrant. It’s just a joy to read.

The story was okay. It bounced around a bit, and I was always feeling like I’d accidentally missed a page (the time jumping and narration really didn’t help). It felt a bit like just an excuse to show off these characters.

But the characters are fantastic, and the art style does them justice. While there are some printing issues (some of the panels look a little out of focus), I loved how expressive and colourful and cool the art is.

The Witcher, vol. 3: Curse of Crows by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Piotr Kowalski)

Read: 17 August, 2018

This is my favourite book of the lot.

I enjoy the random Witcher adventures – the monsters are interesting, I like the way Geralt interacts with people, and I always like the reveals at the very end that Geralt knew what was going on the whole time. But Geralt at his very best is Geralt when Ciri and Yennifer are around.

The artwork is also much better in this one, especially the backgrounds. The city shots, in particular, were gorgeous. Kowalski also did a good job of capturing the right body language and facial expressions to go along with Tobin’s writing.

As for Tobin’s writing, he’s once again managed to capture the characters’ personalities. This is especially impressive with the banter between Geralt and Yennifer, which rides such a very fine line – too affectionate and it isn’t them, but too teasing and it could come off as mean-spirited.

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The Witcher, vol. 2: Fox Children by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: August 6, 2018

As with House of Glass, I appreciate how well Tobin has managed to capture Geralt’s voice and the general tone of Witcher series.

The artwork, which disappointed me a bit in House of Glass, is still rather underwhelming. However, there is now a female character who actually wears clothing, so that’s at least a little improvement (have no fear – the central female character is still naked). This is authentic to CD Projekt Red’s vision of the series, so I can’t fault it for that, but it’d be nice to have a little more parity.

The story works, for the most part. I liked the ending twist, and I thought that that Tobin did a good job of building a paranoid atmosphere.

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The Witcher, vol. 1: House of Glass by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

Read: 5 August, 2018

I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork for this one. It felt a bit rough or lacking in detail, and there were several panels where I had a great deal of trouble figuring out what I was looking at. In particular, Vara’s body (her arms, especially) seemed all over the place, proportionally. It’s not bad art, per se, but it could have been a lot better.

The story was okay. It definitely felt like a Witcher story, just not one of the better ones. There’s some good mystery and ambience building up, until Geralt finds the right person to talk to and they just infodump what’s going on. Which a lot of Sapkowski’s stories also do, so points for keeping it authentic, but those aren’t the stories that I really like.

All that said, I did enjoy the writing. When Geralt speaks, he sounds like Geralt. His humour, his deadpan, the way he just goes along with what people saying – even while he knows that they are lying – just to see what will happen… that’s truly Geralt. Even the “twist” at the end that he had a good idea of what was going on the whole time, even while the reader was befuddled by the mystery, reads just like Sapkowski’s stories.

I also liked the way Geralt bantered with Vara. They had a good rapport, and it worked better than just having Geralt wandering around by himself for half the story.

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