Comic books were never an obsession for me, but — like that perfectly broken-in pair of jeans or the friend you’ve had since kindergarten — they’ve always been part of my life. Some of the best times I ever had as a kid were spent flipping through superhero sagas on the magazine racks at the local Lawson’s* while waiting my turn at Galaga. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through all those study halls in the elementary school library without access to Peanuts.** And I owe a handwritten thank-you note to all the friends who let me read through their bookshelves over the years.
So it feels good to start a new year of reading with a few graphic novels from the Library’s collection….kind of like finally getting to put on sweatpants*** at the end of a long day: comfortable, familiar, and never disappointing. Here’s what I’ve checked out so far:
100 Crushes, Elisha Lim. A 5-year retrospective of Lim’s work, this volume collects excerpts from The Illustrated Gentleman, Queer Child in the 80s, Sissy, and 100 Butches. Tackling race, gender, fashion, pop culture, and pronoun advocacy against a backdrop of personal memory, 100 Crushes paints a portrait of a person beautifully and proudly self-constructed, and passionate about helping others achieve the same self-determination. The panels are an interesting mix of warm and bright colors, quietly muted rather than flashy. Combined with the handwritten lettering, this makes for an intimate, confessional reading experience, something you’ll want to curl up in the windowsill with and read a few times, to make sure you’re getting the full impact.
Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley. The adorable story of a neurotic chef, Katie, who — like most of us — is pretty much her worst enemy. Unlike most of us, however, Katie gets a shot at a do-over after a horrible mistake, thanks to a magic mushroom and a house spirit only she can see. A person can get greedy for miracles, though, and when Katie finds a bunch of magic mushrooms under her restaurant, well…let’s just say that breaking the rules has inevitable consequences. This adorable book — Katie looks like a punk rock chibi! — from the creator of Scott Pilgrim is gentle fantasy in an urban setting (though not, technically, urban fantasy), and could be a nice introduction to comics for people who think they wouldn’t like them (depending, of course, on their position on house spirits).
Ghost World, Daniel Clowes. I know, I know, I know. I’m the last person on the planet to pick this up (or, at least, the last comics reader of a certain age). But late is always better than never, and I don’t think I would have appreciated this story when I was younger. You need some distance to truly grok how Enid and Becky, the best-friend protagonists, snark and diss their way through their teenage lives, which revolve around hanging out in diners, playing practical jokes, and obsessing about boys, sex, and the future. If you’re ciswoman-identified, it’s like looking down a long, dark hallway into a mirror. And if you’re male-identified, you just might learn something. Next up: the movie.
The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks. Brooks, of World War Z fame, delivers here a fictionalized account of combat and racism the soldiers of the 369th infantry –nicknamed by German soldiers for their ferocity– experienced during World War I. It’s supplemented by historical notes and a bibliography I’m itching to start reading through, but it’s the story that draws you in: a group of young men who just want to serve their country are hampered at every turn by bigotry, but eventually get a chance to see combat. There’s a lot going on in each of illustrator Canaan White’s panels– you have to really study them to get the full effect–but they don’t pull any punches on the horrors of war or man’s general inhumanity to man, which is precisely what makes them work. Teens and reluctant readers will definitely want to give it a shot, but everybody would benefit from a look.
Kind of all over the map, I know. But it’s such a great map! Why wouldn’t I want to go everywhere? If you’ve got a suggestion for my next adventure, leave a comment and I’ll make sure your picks move to the top of my list (reader’s advisory hint: I am currently loving Bitch Planet #1).
*Think Sheetz, but more blue-collar.
**They either didn’t give me enough homework or it wasn’t hard enough.
***Or pajamas. Or leggings. I’m not judging you.